North Georgia Zoo and Petting Farm
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays during September and October
Where: 2912 Paradise Valley Road, Cleveland
How much: $8 adults, $6 children 2-11
Boy Scout Grant Randolph was nearing the cusp of earning his Eagle Scout ranking. All he needed was a worthwhile project to perform for a nonprofit organization.
The 15-year-old Woodstock teen found it during a family trip to the North Georgia Zoo and Petting Farm in Cleveland. It was a home for the zoo’s Egyptian fruit bats.
Now the zoo’s latest bat exhibit is open to the public thanks to Randolph, who earned the Boy Scout’s highest rank on Sept. 24.
“I was drawn to this project because I love animals and being outside, so it was nice to do a project that had something to do with what I was already interested in,” Randolph said.
The then-Boy Scout and zoo collaborated on the project earlier this month.
“The zoo heard that I was a Boy Scout looking for a service project, and they were in need of a new cage,” Randolph said. “The zoo gave me the dimensions for the enclosure. I sat down with a family engineer and came up with the plans. Then, I went around asking for donations for my project.”
After Randolph collected the necessary funds, he purchased the materials and set to building the enclosure off-site with a few other boys from Troop 639. The large cage was then transported to the zoo and on display for visitors to see.
“The exhibit is a tall enclosure where the bats have enough room to fly but also to crawl into a cave-like area,” North Georgia Zoo director Hope Bennett said.
The cage includes a red lamp used to heat the area without hurting the nocturnal creatures’ eyes. The heat is especially vital to the new baby bats.
“Our first two baby bats were born about two months ago,” Bennett said. “That’s one of the reasons we didn’t open the exhibit until now. We didn’t want to put stress on the bats after we found out they were pregnant.”
The two babies are named Flicker and Moonlight. Moonlight lives in the exhibit with the other bats, but Flicker lives in the nursery. She is used for tours, programs and contests, such as one going on now. To win the contest, a visitor must guess the correct number of bats in the exhibit, and he or she will win an “up-close and personal” meeting with Flicker.
A zoo employee who handles the baby bats said both have noticeably different and inquisitive personalities.
“I can tell the difference between the two babies,” senior keeper Rachel Heck said. “One is more friendly, and the other likes to fly more. When I pull my hair in a ponytail, Flicker likes to hang out in it.”
The curious and playful personalities of the Egyptian fruit bats were one of the main reasons they were chosen over other bats to show off at the zoo. A second reason was Egyptian fruit bats eat fruit instead of insects like most bats native to Georgia.
Their high metabolism combined with their diet results in extra cleaning of the exhibit.
“I’m short, so we had to make little steps in the cage so I can clean the sides of the enclosure better,” Heck said.
Even though bats are nocturnal, visitors to the zoo can see the bats sleeping.
The zoo has housed Egyptian fruit bats before, but they have never been on display.
“People don’t fully understand bats,” Bennett said. “We wanted to educate them on something they normally don’t get to experience up close and personal.”
For the time being, the zoo plans for the bat exhibit to be seasonal, especially during Halloween. But zoo officials will keep their eyes on the nocturnal creatures.
“We’re just going to have to see how they do outside first,” Bennett said.
The North Georgia Zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays through October.
Boo at the Zoo will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 24 and noon to 6 p.m. Oct. 25. Children who arrive dressed in costume will receive a free feed cup. The event will include a scavenger hunt, hayrides and dressed-up animals.