Couple says their only option is to remove the roof, but that would cost up to $100K
Waking up to screeching, squeaking and squealing voices in the attic may sound like a Halloween nightmare, but it is a reality for a Saskatchewan couple living with a cauldron of bats lives in their roof, and they say there's nothing they can do about it.
Rachelle and Kelly Swan bought their house in Spiritwood, 172 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, two years ago. Last August, they found a bat flapping in their living room.
"We thought it had gotten in the door or something, but when we found another one outside in our soffit, we were like, OK, maybe something else is going on here," Rachelle said.
"We called the exterminators all over the province and they just said good luck. They're protected. There's nothing that we can do about them."
They also called conservation officers, who set them up with a roofing company that specializes in relocating bats. It took more than $5,000, two days of work and more than 60 cans of silicone to seal up the roof and install bat cones that have a one way valve so that the animals can leave but not come back in. "The mice with wings," as Rachelle calls them, can get through a finger-sized hole.
The family was told to wait until spring, as the bats were hibernating.
"All winter, we heard them up in the main beam where they're the loudest. Our kids heard them in their walls and the roof," Rachelle said. "Are they partying up there?"
When spring rolled around, they found another one in their kitchen aquarium and six more in a mouse trap they had set out thinking they had seen mouse droppings. Another visit from a conservation officer led to him getting bitten by one of the little brown bats.
"Public health told us our family is now considered at risk. Over the course of two weeks, our family of five had to get 47 needles."
The family has to go regularly for boosters on their rabies vaccines until this is dealt with. Kelly is also in remission from cancer and said she is vulnerable to histoplasmosis, a lung infection caused by breathing spores of a fungus often found in bat droppings.
Illegal to kill bats
In a written statement, the Ministry of Environment said the bats and their place of habitation are protected from interference, harassment and killing under the Wildlife Act.
"Two of the eight bat species found in Saskatchewan are also listed as endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act. It is illegal to kill, disturb or exclude bats without a permit pursuant to The Wildlife Act," the statement said.
"Bats can only be excluded, allowing exit but not re-entry, from buildings in May or September with a permit under Saskatchewan's Bat Exclusion Policy. Outside of May or September, considerations will be made by the Ministry of Environment on a case-by-case basis."
The ministry said many bat species are in trouble from habitat loss, or from a disease called white-nose syndrome, which has killed over 12 million bats in North America and has no known cure.
"The only option left for us is to remove our entire roof, clear out all of the insulation, get the bats relocated and then rebuild the roof," Rachelle said.
She said that would cost them between $60,000 and $100,000, and insurance wouldn't cover it. It would also cost additional thousands to get the bats relocated. The family cannot bear those expenses without taking a loan.
"The federal government has protected the species, but we're not protected."
'We have the bats for life'
The family said they have reached out to the ministries of environment, health and housing, Premier Scott Moe and MP Gary Vidal, but no one has any solutions. Rachelle received a call from Moe Wednesday, but he "didn't have an answer either," she said.
"With rising costs of living, we thought to downsize into something smaller, but we can't even do that. No one is buying a house that's got bats in it. Our hands are tied."
The couple is amazed that their home inspector could have missed their roof being faulty.
Kelly said the government should them. Since the house does not have an attic, they can't even put any treatment in there.
A friend of Swans also started a fundraiser to assist them with the costs.
"It's just been a series of really unfortunate events," Rachelle said. "I guess we have the bats for life and we're gonna die here with them."
Peculiar for small brown bats to hibernate in buildings: expert
Mark Brigham, a professor of biology at the University of Regina who has studied bats for 40 years, said the little brown bat, or myotis lucifugus, is a very common species across all of North America, but was declared endangered in Saskatchewan some eight years ago due to white nose syndrome.
"It's caused by a fungus that was accidentally introduced to North America from Europe. It interferes with this species's ability to hibernate and causes them to lose more water than it would in most situations," he said.
Brigham said the guideline of disturbing them solely in May and September stems from them having their pups in June, meaning they can be relocated before and after the pupping season.
"In the summer these bats, almost always females, are in groups and buildings. If you remove the mothers, the pups are going to be left in the building and are all going to starve to death."
Brigham said it is peculiar for little brown bats to be found in the upper part of a building at this time of the year when they are almost always hibernating, usually underground.
"It's way too cold for this species to be in a building at this time of the year."
Contrary to what conservation officers told the family, Brigham speculated that the species in the roof is possibly the big brown bats.
"They are the ones to hibernate in buildings," he said.
"Those bats have made a really bad choice and they're not gonna live. This doesn't sound like a situation where hibernation is going to be successful."
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