1,000 bats found home at East Jeff

They roosted in storage rooms, had no contact with students

Saturday, February 24, 2007
By Barri Bronston

Jefferson Parish school officials have been going batty for the past two weeks, thanks to an infestation of the flying mammals at East Jefferson High School in Metairie.

An estimated 1,000 brown bats, each about the size of a human palm, were roosting in three second-story storage rooms when bat control expert Fritz Borden of Acadian Rodent & Animal Control was summoned to the school earlier this month.

"We've been working on this for two weeks," Borden said Friday. "We had to find the entry point, then build an exclusion door so they could get out but not back in. Once we got them out, we were then able to seal the entry point."

Jeff Nowakowski, spokesman for the Jefferson Parish public school system, said the storage space where the bats were found had no access to classrooms.

"As soon as we found out about it we got an expert in to take care of the issue, and there was no fear of contact between animals and the kids," he said.

School Board member Martin Marino, whose district includes East Jefferson, said he learned about the problem from an East Jefferson teacher just before Mardi Gras. He said it isn't the first time a school in his district has had an infestation of bats.

In recent years, Marino said, bats have been an issue at Bridgedale Elementary School and T.H. Harris Middle School, which like East Jefferson are in the 6th District, an area bounded by Airline Drive, Causeway Boulevard, Veterans Memorial Boulevard and David Drive.

"We had to take a whole wall out at Bridgedale a few years ago to get them out," Marino said. "They seem to travel up and down West Metairie Avenue. They must really like my district."

At East Jefferson, ceiling tiles had to be removed to make sure all the bats were gone, Borden said. Removing bats can be a time-consuming process, he said, because of certain procedures that have to be followed.

"It's illegal to kill bats," he said. "In fact, you don't want to kill them. They eat 300 to 500 insects in an hour. They are actually one of our greatest friends because they eat so many mosquitoes. People build bat houses for this reason."

Borden said bats have gotten a bad rap through the years because of the unfounded belief that they carry rabies, an infectious viral disease that can be transmitted to people through a bite.

"Only 1 percent of all bats carry rabies," he said. "The numbers are so small. It's just not that common."

Nowakowski said the areas at East Jefferson where the bats were found have been sanitized, and old textbooks being stored in one of the rooms have been thrown out.

Acadian was scheduled to deodorize the space Friday night.

"They leave a real smelly stench," Borden said. "The last thing we will do is get the smell out."

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Barri Bronston can be reached at
bbronston@timespicayune.com or (504) 883-7058.



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