New pocket (gopher and bat) books

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1993:

Conversations With A Pocket Gopher
And Other Outspoken Neighbors. By Jack
Schaefer. Capra Press (PO Box 2068, Santa Barbara,
CA 93120), 1978, 1992, 126 pages, paper $8.95.
Originally published in Audubon magazine, the
seven tales collected here attempt to explain ecological situ-
ations from the perspectives of individual nonhuman beings.
The late author, best known for his Western novel Shane,
deserves credit for trying, though his style too often
becomes precious and archaic when he strives hardest for
enlightenment.

The most memorable of these “talking” animal
characters is Myotis lucifugus, the little brown bat Schaefer
rescues when a cold snap temporarily interrupts his migra-
tion. Schaefer is planning to bury the inert form when the
bat speaks. “The words are faint yet clear,” Schaefer
writes. “A fellow creature I thought dead is alive. And is
speaking to me.” Eventually the bat explains he is on a mis-
sion to gather data on declining bat populations––a situation
later attributed to overuse of agricultural chemicals.
In the meantime, their conversation turns to the
finer points of bat biology, the evolution of flight, and simi-
lar interesting topics. Here, as in the other stories, Schaefer
apologizes for the general lack of environmental awareness
among humans. Likewise, each animal character, after
grumbling for several paragraphs, “forgives” humans for
their ignorance.
These essays do have a certain charm despite their
naivete; Schaefer is, after all, an accomplished storyteller.
They are always informative, if somewhat preachy. And
they convey a degree of sensitivity toward other living crea-
tures. If each is at heart a morality tale, then the moral is
particularly applicable to modern life.
It could also be argued that if animals could com-
municate directly with humans, they would express opin-
ions very close to those Schaefer attributes to them.
Consider the kangaroo rat’s response when a human family
captures it for a pet:
“You humans are weirdos. You persist in trying to
make pets of other animals without bothering to learn about
their habits, their likes and dislikes, their dietary needs, their
notions of what constitutes joy in living. You make out
fairly well with domesticated and thus dulled animals like
horses and dogs, to some extent even with cats. In regards
to others your ignorance is appalling.”
Their habits, their likes and dislikes, their dietary
needs, their notions of what constitutes joy in living: these
details are not neglected here. And though the style verges
on being anachronistic, it lacks any corresponding taint of
anthropomorphism. Each essay is an honest effort to depict
humans as animals might see us. While the style may be
dated, the subject is as immediate as the next environmental
news story.
––Cathy Czapla
The Bat In My Pocket: A Memorable
Friendship. By Amanda Lollar. Capra Press
(P.O. Box 2068, Santa Barbara, CA 93120), 1992, 86
pages, paper $9.95.
Combining scientific fact with her own experi-
ence, Amanda Lollar has written a book that’s impossible to
put down. Long before the story ends, she’ll have con-
vinced the most reluctant reader that bats are intelligent,
sensitive and beneficial creatures.
Currently a licensed rehabilitator, Lollar found her
first injured bat quite by accident. Though she was even
then an animal person experienced in caring for domestic
strays and occasional wildlife, her initial reaction was revul-
sion. Describing her trepidation and her fumbling attempts
to save the creature, she evokes the helpless feeling all too
well known to anyone who has ever found an unfamiliar
wild animal in pain.
But the bat, a Mexican freetail whom Lollar named
Sunshine, is the real heroine of this story. Recovered but
unable to fly, she becomes Lollar’s constant companion.
While some will accuse the writer of anthropomorphism,
it’s only when one lives a while with anyone that under-
standing develops, whether or not both are of the same
species. Sunshine’s habits, and her ability to communicate
her needs, are described in such detail that it’s difficult not
to attribute her actions to intelligence.
“Loud peeping seemed to be used only for dis-
tress,” Lollar writes. “I learned the hard way that these
noisy squeals while she was on my shoulder or in my hand
meant she had to relieve herself. Bats do not like to soil
themselves or their roosting area. Tissues became a perma-
nent object in my pocket. She readily moved from my hand
to the Kleenex, and then back on my hand when finished…”
We learn more about bat behavior as the bond
between Lollar and Sunshine grows stronger. We discover
that this particular bat has a definite personality! She has
cravings for avocado, and loves a daily brushing.
Altogether she becomes “a spoiled rotten bat.”
Nevertheless, while Lollar’s affection for this tiny
creature is obvious, she makes clear that it’s never easy car-
ing for an injured bat. There are mishaps that could have
cost Sunshine her life. As with any wild creature, there are
problems with nutrition, medical treatment, and the adjust-
ments that humans must make for animals away from their
normal habitat. Despite the wealth of detail here, this is not
a manual on keeping bats in captivity, nor does Lollar rec-
ommend bats as pets.
Amanda Lollar has rescued other bats since
Sunshine, but each with its distinct personality has no doubt
been an emotional as well as a material commitment. If this
book is a memorial to her first bat companion, it is also a
plea for our understanding of all bats. A Bat In My Pocket
concludes with Bat Conservation International’s instruction
for building a bat house. After meeting Sunshine, who
could resist the opportunity to provide shelter for her rela-
tives?
Cathy Czapla
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