Thursday, 10 May 2007

Encounter with the dead..

Early into the day, a call came in from a museum volunteer on her way to NUH that changed my life. Well, in a way as it was my very first encounter with a wild bat. After all, how many people actually get to handle bats, dead or alive?

After hanging up, Siva sent me to collect the bat with just tissue papers, a plastic bag and loads of apprehension.
I can't imagine myself touching a dead bat even with tissues separating fingers from fur. Thoughts like how to handle a dead bat and mainly curiosity on how it died in a place so populated with humans boggled my mind. However, all that soon turned to frustration, and made me realise one thing when I got to the designated area sketchily drawn up by Siva on a tiny piece of sticky paper.

Communication is very crucial. Initially thinking there will be someone there to light up the precise location, I panicked when I found nobody waiting and no bat in sight at all. After a series of calls to Danliang who helped to convey messages as a middleman between Siva and me, I decided to take matters into my own hand and search the entire length of Medical Drive. (I obtained Siva's number from Danliang later on)

It was a long and desperate search as I didn't want to return empty handed. Amids weird stares from people, I finally made the last call to Sivav who decided it was time to conclud the search. Disappointed from the unfruitful search, I decided against using the short cut back and ambled along the trail. It was this action of hanging on to any last hopes I had that provided the turning point of the day. I spotted the bat along the edge of the pavement into Medical Drive! It was much smaller version of my imagination; no wonder I missed it since it's only about 8cm from head till tail with it's wings closed up against its body. Quickly forgetting any early apprehension, I wrapped it in tissue and rushed back to RMBR without second thoughts of capturing a photo. *Sigh*

Back at the office, Siva immediately got me and Danliang going to the first level of the museum after a phone call to Kelvin. There, we learnt that that the bat was a female pouch bat
Kelvin showed us the characteristic valves under its limbs and extended them to show the distinctive white wings. So you know what type of bat is flying around at night if you see white wings!

After which, Kelvin taught us the proper way of preserving these precious specimens. To avoid contracting any disease that the animals could carry, we avoided direct contact by using tongs to hold the animal down while injecting 95% alcohol into the animal. It doesn't seem to matter where you inject the animal as long as you get the alcohol in and all over it. In fact, alcohol was also poured down the bat's throat. This probably sterilses the entire animal and prevent further rotting.

Danliang and I actually got the rare opportunity to inject alcohol in! Kevin pumped in quite a huge amount which bloated up the bat right before our eyes. Then, he gave Danliang and I the rare opportunity of a lifetime to inject some in. Even though it was in minute amounts to prevent the bat from bursting from alcchol, it was totally cool. The syringe they use are the ones you usually see on comedy shows - huge fixed with a long thin needle at the tip. It was really hard to pump in any alcohol when it was my turn, but just getting a chance to hold the syringe and spray alcohol all over the bat was enough for me. And all he while, Siva was hopping around feverishly taking photos.

Done with that, the bat was then left in a jar full of 95% alcohol, which must completely submerge the specimen as emphasized by Kelvin. Before sealing the lid with silicon, Siva handed me a label with these details: Name of collector (me), location of finding it (medical drive) , where it goes to (RMBR), the date, and the species name if it's available at the time of identification. It was all written in pencil as the markings would not go off in alcohol as pen ink would. One important point stressed yet again by Siva is with regards to precision once more. Not only must the collector's status be identified, which is a member of the public in this case, another very important factor is the exact location which must be given specifically and clearly.

Following that, we were taught the methods of maintaining the already preserved animals. Even with the silicon seal around the rim of the lid, the alcohol nevertheless evaporates out at a slow rate. Thus once in a while, alcohol has to be refilled in these jars. Initially, Kelvin tried injecting alcohol through the silicon itself as it works sometimes. However, this time saving method didn't work and he reverted to plan B which was cutting open the silicon to remove the lid and re-submerge the specimen (a baby dugong) by pouring in the alcohol. Although it's a bit of a hassle as he has to reseal the jar with silicon, I think it's a faster way of getting the alcohol in. Also, resealing it once more with a fresh layer of silicon probably means the dugong won't be seeing Kelvin for a long long time.

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