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Students build homes for bats, career skills for life

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

By day, he’s systems technician Chris K. from the zoo’s IT department. But by night (err, well, by around 3:00 p.m.), he’s Bat Man.

Chris K. teaches the students about bats in our own backyard and around the world.
Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

At least, that’s what the kids in Woodland Park Zoo’s middle school after-school program, ZooCrew, call him.

Chris is one of the latest zoo staffers to join the growing list of mentors who help ZooCrew kids see a future for themselves in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) career. ZooCrew instructors work with the students all semester long and bring in help from mentors like Chris when the students are ready to try their hands at career-focused projects. With a passion for defending bats from their undeserved reputation and from mounting conservation threats, Chris was a great match to lead students from Eckstein, Mercer, Washington, Madison and Chinook Middle Schools through a project dedicated to bat conservation.

Want to see bats at Woodland Park Zoo? Look for the Indian flying foxes in the Adaptations Building.
Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Protecting native bats was one of three Northwest conservation focuses the students could choose from last semester, with Oregon silverspot butterfly and western pond turtle as alternatives. Bats are so underappreciated, you might worry the students would overlook them during project selection, but many of the ZooCrew kids flocked to these misunderstood animals. How can you not be taken with an animal that flies, plays an essential role as insect eater, plant pollinator and seed disperser, shows up on every continent but Antarctica, and makes up nearly one quarter of the world’s mammal species diversity?! 

In the first part of the semester, the students learned about bat conservation and the zoo’s work with our Wildlife Survival Fund project, Bat Conservation International.

Battle For Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome from Ravenswood Media on Vimeo.

Then it was time to put that knowledge to work and do some problem solving, an essential career skill in science and engineering. If bats are facing extinction, what can we do to help with this problem? One of the major factors in bat conservation is the loss of homes for bats. For example, when forests are destroyed or improperly managed, many species of bats lose their roosts and feeding areas. Disease, such as white-nose syndrome, is also wiping out populations. Bats need a secure home in a disease-free environment to thrive.

ZooCrew students break out the tools to build a bat house. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

One solution? Build a bat house! Making and installing a bat house in your yard or community is a great way to model a commitment to protecting bats right here in our own Northwest habitat. Bat houses that mimic tight spaces in trees, under bridges or in the rafters of old buildings provide ideal nesting space for bats to help ensure population growth.

Time to paint the finished bat houses. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

By building a bat house, the students also got to practice their engineering skills. After constructing their houses from kits, it came time to paint them the recommended color: black. The students decided that they needed to find non-toxic black paint to ensure they wouldn't harm any of the animals or habitats they intended to protect. The ZooCrew instructors were so impressed with how thoughtful the students were throughout the process—it was clear they took the charge to protect bats to heart!

An installed bat house. Photo by Ann Froschauer/USFWS.

To build on the experience, the students’ next task moving into future semesters is to work with their schools to find community locations where they can install the finished bat houses. By putting them somewhere public the students open up the opportunity to draw attention to their work, the impact it can have for bats, and how others can do the same.

Many of these students will continue on with ZooCrew this semester and beyond, gaining exposure to more science and conservation careers here at the zoo—from zookeeping, to field conservation, to science journalism. What zoo job would you want to try your hand at?


Joyce said…
I want a bat box for my community's pocket park. How can I get the children to put one there?
Hi Joyce,

Which park are you thinking of? If you'd prefer to share your idea confidentially, feel free to follow up with me by email at I'll pass along the recommendation to the ZooCrew instructors who will continue to work with the students on placing the bat houses out in local communities.
- Rebecca
Unknown said…
I wish more people would take the time to educate others about bats like you do. I own a nuisance wildlife removal company and we do a fair amount of bat work and it seems every job also turns out to be an educational class on the benefits of bats.Keep up the great work.