KAYSVILLE -- When Phil Gray opened a Dumpster in a church parking lot and saw 35 Brazilian free-tailed bats caught in a net, a sudden fear came over him.
Not because he is afraid of bats, but because he was upset by what had happened to the flying mammals.
"I was pretty bothered by it," Gray said. "It seemed like a senseless waste."
On July 7, Gray and Arlo Wing, wildlife specialists with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, found the bats tangled in netting that had been thrown in a Dumpster in a church parking lot on the corner of 2nd East and Center Street. They were alerted to the incident when a woman called the DWR, saying her son had ridden his bike in the parking lot, heard a noise coming from the Dumpster and opened the lid to see what was inside.
"We were lucky that we got there when we did," Gray said. "It was extremely hot that day. We had to have gotten there not too long after they were dumped."
The officials ultimately saved 32 of the bats. One flew away from the Dumpster and officers relocated 31 in Davis County that same day. One bat was dead when Gray and Wing arrived, and two others had to be euthanized because of broken bones suffered while being caught in the net and thrown in the garbage.
"Wildlife is not a type of throw-away kind of thing," said Phil Douglass, Division of Wildlife Resources conservation outreach manager for Northern Utah. "Bats do serve an important niche in our ecology."
Gray said all of the bats were female, and several were lactating. Those lactating females eat their weight in mosquitoes twice a night -- once before feeding their babies and once after. Males and non-lactating females eat their weight in mosquitoes once a night.
Wildlife officials do not know why someone trapped the bats in the netting. They suspect someone either unintentionally caught the bats by putting the nets around bushes to keep birds away, or trapped the bats on purpose because they viewed the creatures as a nuisance.
If caught, the person who put the bats in the garbage could be charged with unlawful taking of endangered bats, a class B misdemeanor.
"If you think you're in a bat area and you put up nets, you're going to catch bats even if not intending to," Douglass said. "The consequence is the bats were caught at the wrong time of the year, and you're not only killing the bats caught in the net, but others as well."
Those lactating females had babies back at their roost, and if those mothers did not find their way back, it's likely a good number of young bats died. Gray said bats born this time of year will not be able to fly for four to five weeks.
Disposing of the bats this way was also dangerous, Douglass said, because bats can be infected with rabies. Humans should avoid contact with bats.
Wyatt Bubak, a conservation officer with Utah Division of Wildlife, said putting the bats in the garbage on a hot day was not only an inappropriate thing to do, but the action was unlawful as well. This type of bat is a species of concern in Utah.
"If they trapped them unintentionally, they should have called us, and it would not have been an issue," Bubak said. "If they are having bat problems and set up nets to catch them, they should have called us and we would have handled it."
Anyone with information on how the bats got in the garbage should call the Help Stop Poaching hotline at 1-800-662-3337.