Breed bats in captivity
Overall effectiveness category Evidence not assessed
Number of studies: 8
Background information and definitions
Captive breeding involves taking wild animals into captivity and establishing and maintaining breeding populations. It tends to be undertaken when wild populations become small or fragmented or when they are declining rapidly. The aim is usually to release captive-bred animals back to natural habitats. See ‘Release captive-bred bats’. Some captive populations may also be used for research to benefit wild populations. Although there are many captive-breeding programmes for bats in zoos around the world, we found only five studies that evaluated the reproductive success and survival of bats in captivity.
For a similar intervention relating to the management of white-nose syndrome in bats, see ‘Breed bats in captivity to supplement wild populations affected by white-nose syndrome’.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A study in 1958–1959 in a laboratory in Connecticut, USA (Novick 1960) found that three of five Jamaican fruit-eating bats Artibeus jamaicensis born in captivity survived for 10–50 days and appeared to be in good health. Three bat pups were born 11, 12 and 13 months after their mothers were captured in the wild and had survived for 10–50 days at the time of the study. One other pregnancy was aborted (seven months after the mother was captured) and one bat pup died within 24 h of birth (eight months after the mother was captured). Twelve adult bats were captured in Mexico in July and August 1958 and brought to the laboratory in September 1958 to establish a breeding colony. They were kept in a darkened flight room at 80˚F and fed banana and melon. Vitamins were added to drinking water. The captive bats were regularly observed for 13 months from September 1958 (dates not reported).Study and other actions tested
A study in 1966–1968 in a laboratory in the UK (Racey & Kleiman 1970; same experimental set up as Racey 1970) found that seven of 24 female common noctule bats Nyctalus noctula captured in the wild successfully conceived, gave birth and reared young in captivity, and two of five female bats born in captivity also gave birth. Thirteen of 24 female bats captured in the wild conceived in captivity. Nine female bats gave birth to live young, seven of which were weaned successfully. Two of five one-year old female bats born in captivity in 1967 successfully gave birth to live young. Wild male and female bats were captured from hibernacula or summer roosts (number of bats and dates not reported). Bats were housed in groups within metal cages lined with grooved plywood and fed with mealworms and vitamin powder. Observations were made during 1967 and 1968 (dates not reported).Study and other actions tested
A study in 1969 in a laboratory in the UK (Racey 1970; same experimental set up as Racey & Kleiman 1970) found that six of 33 female common noctule bats Nyctalus noctula captured in the wild successfully conceived, gave birth and reared young in captivity. Fifteen of 33 female bats captured in the wild conceived in captivity. Eleven female bats gave birth to live young, six of which were weaned successfully. Five pups were rejected by their mothers. Wild male and female bats were captured from hibernacula or summer roosts (number of bats and dates not reported). Bats were housed in groups within metal cages lined with grooved plywood and fed with mealworms and vitamin powder. Observations were made in 1969 (dates not reported).Study and other actions tested
A study in 1968–1970 in a flight room at Cornell University, USA (Rasweiler 1973) found that five of 18 pregnant Pallas’s long-tongued bats Glossophaga soricina gave birth to live young, and one of five bat pups born was successfully reared to adulthood. Four of five bat pups were rejected by their mothers. Bats were collected from the wild in Trinidad in February 1968 (93 males, 23 females) and July 1968 (173 females) and transported to the university 2–7 days after capture. All bats were kept in a darkened flight room at 24–26˚C with wood and wire cages for roosting. They were fed on peach nectar with added minerals. One to three males were added to cages with 15–20 females to encourage breeding. Observations were made for up to 584 days after bats were captured in 1968–1970.Study and other actions tested
A study in 1993–1994 in a flight room in Tuscany, Italy (Dondini & Vergari 1995) found that a Savi’s pipistrelle bat Pipistrellus savii captured in the wild successfully conceived, gave birth, and reared two pups in captivity. The young Savi’s pipistrelle bat was captured in July 1993 and was observed mating in captivity in September 1993. Following hibernation, she gave birth to two pups on 27 July 1994. The pups (one male, one female) increased in body weight (by approximately 3 g), reached adult size within four weeks and were capable of flight by 35–40 days after birth. The Savi’s pipistrelle was housed in a flight room (3 x 3 x 3 m with roosting sites on the walls) with a mixed colony of Savi’s pipistrelles and Kuhl’s pipistrelles Pipistrellus kuhlii. She was fed mealworm Tenebrio molitor and provided with water and multivitamins, plus a milk supplement while nursing. The pups were measured and weighed every four days. The authors report that two female bats in the colony also gave birth to three pups in 1995, which all survived and reached adult size (no further details were provided).Study and other actions tested
A study in 1991–2005 at a zoo in Florida, USA (Pope 2010) found that over 13 years 63 little golden-mantled flying foxes Pteropus pumilus were born in captivity, 45 of which survived their first year after birth. In 1991, seven male and six female bats were either imported or donated to establish a breeding colony. Breeding was initiated every year in 1992–2005. In 2005, breeding was temporarily stopped, and individual bats were loaned to other institutions to reduce the population.Study and other actions tested
A study in 2001–2005 at a zoo in Brazil (Esbérard 2012) found that three female pale-faced bats Phylloderma stenops captured in the wild conceived and gave birth to seven pups in captivity, and two of three female bats born in captivity gave birth to one pup each. Three female pale-faced bats captured in the wild successfully conceived and gave birth to seven pups (three males, four females) within 23–34 months after capture. Six pups survived and one died within 24 h of birth after being rejected by its mother. Two of three surviving female bats gave birth to one pup each at 13–15 months old. Five bats (one male, three females) were captured in 2001 and 2002 from two different regions and grouped together in a wire cage (90 x 60 x 80 cm) within a flight enclosure with 16 other bat species. Bats were fed with a semi-liquid diet of chopped fruit, egg, cow meat, dog food, honey, dehydrated shrimp, salt and a vitamin and mineral complex. Each bat was identified with a microchip and coloured plastic necklace. Observations were made twice/day for 10 minutes in 2001–2005.Study and other actions tested
A study in 2007–2014 at a zoo in Auckland, New Zealand (Searchfield 2016) found that two of five New Zealand lesser short-tailed bats Mystacina tuberculata born in captivity survived and were successfully hand-reared. In 2012, two live pups (one male, one female) were born and removed from the colony for hand-rearing after showing signs of dehydration. Both pups reached adult body weight (approximately 14 g) at seven weeks of age, were observed flying at 10 weeks and successfully rejoined the colony at 12 weeks. One other pup was stillborn in 2010. Two other pups born in 2012 died at 16 and 22 days old. The colony of 13 adult bats was transferred to the zoo in 2007 following a failed translocation attempt. The two hand-reared pups were removed from the main enclosure at 2 and 18 days old and placed in an incubator. The pups were fed milk formula and weaned onto mealworms Tenebrio molitor and moths. Electrolytes were given to treat dehydration. At 50 days of age, the pups were placed in a small cage within the main enclosure and gradually re-introduced to the adult group.Study and other actions tested