AUSTIN (KXAN) — City leaders could soon hire a full-time biologist to oversee Austin’s beloved bat population.
Since a 1980 renovation of the Congress Avenue Bridge, the structure has become an ideal cave for Mexican free-tailed bats. Today, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reports Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world, with an estimated 1.5 million bats dwelling under the bridge.
With the prominence of bats in the city’s ecosystem, the Austin Animal Advisory Commission is submitting a recommendation to city council to consider hiring a full-time expert.
“Bats are an extraordinarily important part of our ecosystem, and Austin is blessed with [them],” Commissioner Dr. Paige Nilson said.
Nilson added the role would be especially important as populations shift globally and the city’s need for observing and preserving its population.
Don Bland, head of the Austin Animal Center, said a bat expert could be trained to help deal with rabies cases in Austin’s local population. Per state guidance, AAC is the local rabies authority and must handle any cases within the city.
Bland said the expert would likely exist alongside animal protection officers and could assist them, but the expert wouldn’t be required to learn APOs’ same practices.
Former Commission Chair Craig Nazor had brought the item forward during his time on the board. He said the role would create a unique opportunity for a bat biologist to hone in on their craft here in Austin, advocating for a full-time position as opposed to a contracted one.
“Bat biologists are not very common, and I would suspect there are very few available to contract,” Nazor said. “The idea here is to maybe find a student who specializes in this and sees that they can make a living doing this.”
The commission unanimously passed the item, with the recommendation now heading to Austin City Council for consideration and possible approval.
Optimal times to see Austin’s bat population runs from late March through early fall. The bats typically begin their nightly voyage around sunset, with hundreds of thousands flying out from underneath the bridge through the evening.