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Aviary's 6 giant bats get clean bills of health

| Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
A female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, is cradled in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, the director of veterinary medicine at the Aviary.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
A female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, is cradled in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, the director of veterinary medicine at the Aviary.
Many hands work together to provide a medical exam to a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.  Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine, bottom, oversees the exam with the assistance of Teri Roesch, hospital manager, and Katie Dietze, vet tech.
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Many hands work together to provide a medical exam to a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine, bottom, oversees the exam with the assistance of Teri Roesch, hospital manager, and Katie Dietze, vet tech. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish.
Dr. Pilar Fish inspects the eyes during a medical exam of a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.  
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Dr. Pilar Fish inspects the eyes during a medical exam of a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
After receiving her medical exam, a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat,  is carefully carried to an aftercare area by Sarah Shannon, supervisor of the hospital wards, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.  The wingspan of the mammal is about 5 feet.
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
After receiving her medical exam, a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, is carefully carried to an aftercare area by Sarah Shannon, supervisor of the hospital wards, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The wingspan of the mammal is about 5 feet. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
A female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, is cradled in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, the director of veterinary medicine at the Aviary.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
A female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, is cradled in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, the director of veterinary medicine at the Aviary.
Many hands work together to provide a medical exam to a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.  Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine, right, oversees the exam with the assistance of , from left, Sarah Shannon, supervisor of hospital ward, Teri Roesch, hospital manager, and , Katie Dietze, vet tech.
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Many hands work together to provide a medical exam to a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine, right, oversees the exam with the assistance of , from left, Sarah Shannon, supervisor of hospital ward, Teri Roesch, hospital manager, and , Katie Dietze, vet tech. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish.
Dr. Pilar Fish listens to the heart during a medical exam of a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.  
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Dr. Pilar Fish listens to the heart during a medical exam of a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Dr. Pilar Fish inspects the nose and sinuses during a medical exam of a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.  
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Dr. Pilar Fish inspects the nose and sinuses during a medical exam of a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Dr. Pilar Fish trims the claws during a medical exam of a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.  
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Dr. Pilar Fish trims the claws during a medical exam of a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Dr. Pilar Fish examines the teeth and mouth during a medical exam of a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.  
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Dr. Pilar Fish examines the teeth and mouth during a medical exam of a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Perched in its normal upside down position, a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, relaxes after a medical exam in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.  
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Perched in its normal upside down position, a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, relaxes after a medical exam in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Perched in its normal upside down position, a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, relaxes after a medical exam in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.  
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Perched in its normal upside down position, a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, relaxes after a medical exam in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
After receiving her medical exam, a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat,  is carefully carried to an aftercare area by Sarah Shannon, supervisor of the hospital wards, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.  The wingspan of the mammal is about 5 feet.
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
After receiving her medical exam, a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, is carefully carried to an aftercare area by Sarah Shannon, supervisor of the hospital wards, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The wingspan of the mammal is about 5 feet. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
A female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, remains calm during a battery of tests performed during a medical exam in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, the director of veterinary medicine at the Aviary.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
A female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, remains calm during a battery of tests performed during a medical exam in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, the director of veterinary medicine at the Aviary.
Dr. Pilar Fish examines the teeth and mouth during a medical exam of a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.  
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Dr. Pilar Fish examines the teeth and mouth during a medical exam of a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Six female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, perch together in an aftercare area after receiving their annual medical exams in the  hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, the director of veterinary medicine at the Aviary.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Six female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, perch together in an aftercare area after receiving their annual medical exams in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, the director of veterinary medicine at the Aviary.
Perched in its normal upside down position, a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, relaxes after a medical exam in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.  
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Perched in its normal upside down position, a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, relaxes after a medical exam in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Many hands work together during a medical exam for a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. After weighing the mammal, Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine, lower left, oversees the exam as  Sarah Shannon, supervisor of hospital ward, removes the flying fox from swaddling blankets, watched by Teri Roesch, hospital manager, upper left.
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Many hands work together during a medical exam for a female Malaysian flying fox, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. After weighing the mammal, Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine, lower left, oversees the exam as Sarah Shannon, supervisor of hospital ward, removes the flying fox from swaddling blankets, watched by Teri Roesch, hospital manager, upper left. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Fish.
After receiving their medical exams, two female Malaysian flying foxes, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, relax in an aftercare area watched by Sarah Shannon, supervisor of the hospital wards, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.  
   The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
After receiving their medical exams, two female Malaysian flying foxes, also known as the greater flying fox and large fruit bat, relax in an aftercare area watched by Sarah Shannon, supervisor of the hospital wards, in the hospital at the National Aviary on the North Side, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. The Aviary's population of 6 flying foxes received their annual medical check-ups and vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the facility.

The first bat to enter the examination room was Buoy, whose frightening 4-foot wingspan belies a gentle disposition.

“It's OK, sweetheart,” Dr. Jacqueline Saint-Onge, an associate veterinarian at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh's North Side, whispered into the 9-year-old bat's ear. “Good job. You're doing great, honey.”

Buoy was one of six Malayan flying foxes — also known as giant fruit bats — to undergo annual physical exams last week at the aviary. The exams involve days of preparations, plus a carefully choreographed routine involving no fewer than 10 Aviary employees, to assure safety and thoroughness.

“It's a little bit of a dance,” said Dr. Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the National Aviary. “We're checking them from head to toe.”

The Tribune-Review had exclusive access to the unusual exams, during which two vets and three technicians checked each bat's heart, lungs, mouth, eyes and abdomen. They studied the bat's wings, which can reach 6 feet. The bats, all females, were vaccinated and weighed. Some needed serious nail trimmings, others not so much.

“Some of them have teeth problems, one of them gets colds commonly,” Fish said. “One of them has a kidney (problem). We've even learned that one has a slight heart murmur.”

But all six bats — Amberjack, Buoy, Europa, Maroon, Nutmeg and Simone — checked out with clean bills of health.

The Aviary bats, though frightening in their size, are harmless to humans and other animals.

Globally, however, bats are known as carriers of many deadly diseases. The World Health Organization blamed the recent Ebola outbreak on African fruit bats, which the organization described as “natural Ebola virus hosts.”

The Aviary's bats were born in captivity in Florida and will live out their lives — 20 years or longer — in the Aviary. The main concern for them is not Ebola, but rabies.

“We know that bats in general can be carriers of rabies, but these are captive-born bats and have lived their whole lives in captivity, so the likelihood that they ever get it is very low,” Fish said. “But we give them a vaccination as a precaution.”

The exams lasted just over an hour for all six bats.

Handlers plucked them one at a time from an artificial tree in their enclosure — some came more willingly than others — then whisked them off to the nearby exam room.

Most of the bats remained calm. Buoy, for instance, occasionally closed her eyes, as if ready for a nap. At other times, she looked at her handlers with apparent curiosity, then wiggled and twisted her ears. She weighed in at just under 3 pounds.

“They're like little dogs,” said Sarah Shannon, the Aviary's supervisor of hospital wards. “They're actually really cute.”

The Aviary does not anesthetize the bats for the exams because doing so introduces unnecessary risks, Fish said. So they practice for days, assuring that the exams go smoothly and do not overly stress the bats.

“Great job, everyone,” Fish said to her team after the exams were completed. “That went great.”

In a temporary cage nearby, six giant fruit bats hung upside down, calmly watching the handlers and awaiting transport back to the exhibit.

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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