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Rabies Threat Two Days Before Bat Fest

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Saturday night, between one and two million bats will fly out from under the The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue bridge in Downtown Austin during Bat Fest. Tonight, there's concern over rabid bats in Travis County. So far this year, Animal Services reports 33 bats have tested positive for rabies. 21 of those were reported in the past week. The number is on track to surpass last year's total number of rabid bats which was 89.

Watching the bats from this bridge is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Austin, but animal control officers remind spectators to never touch a downed bat. They say as long as you keep your hands to yourself, you should be fine.

Every night at dusk, the Frost Tower lights the way for thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats. "We saw them the other night and watched them fly out, all of them at one time," said Mike Johnson who is visiting from Jackson, TN.

People come from all over the world to see the bats take off from under the bridge in search of food. "They were amazing," said Sue Jones who is visiting from London, England. "Absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I think we all agreed." "We're actually talking about doing it tonight," said Caitlyn Hawn who is visiting from Corpus Christi, TX.

Every year, though, there's concern about rabies. "Austin-Travis County is generally 2nd or 3rd in the state of Texas as either positive or non-testible," said Mark Sloat, Austin Animal Control Supervisor.

Sloat says so far this year, 33 bats have tested positive for rabies. Several people, including a six-year-old boy, have come in contact with them. "Quite often by the time they realize a person has rabies, there's nothing they can do for them."

With a festival dedicated to watching the bats coming up in two days, Bat Fest organizers want to remind the public of a good rule of thumb. "A bat in the air is a healthy bat, and a bat on the ground might be a sick bat and a bat you don't want to touch," said Angela Hamann, a spokesperson for Roadway Productions.

"The problem with a bat is it can literally bite or scratch you with its teeth and you're not necessarily going to even feel it," said Sloat.

However, the rabies risk isn't enough to keep bat-gazers away. "I wouldn't be worried about it," said Johnson. "I'm around animals a lot and that's just a risk that you have to take," said Hawn.

Bat Fest is this Saturday, August 23rd on the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue bridge. It runs from 4-11 p.m while the bridge is shutdown to traffic. The bats are expected to make their appearance around 8:30 p.m.

Reminder, if you do see a downed bat, call 311 and report it to animal control.

(Photo from Bat Fest.)

By Deeda Payton

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Rabies Threat Two Days Before Bat Fest


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