Victoria Campbell, whose day job is as digital content manager at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, also runs Wild Things Sanctuary, which specializes in caring for bats.

Web editor by day rescues bats by night

Bats call to Victoria Campbell. 

“I’ve always been drawn to the underdog,” she said. 

By day, Campbell is digital content manager at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, working on the lab’s websites and social media. But in her free time – every moment of it – she’s a devoted caretaker to bats in need. 

Campbell helps a bat eat a dinner of mealworms at her Ithaca-based rescue.

People who find sick and injured or displaced bats call her rescue – Wild Things Sanctuary in Ithaca – to take the animals in for proper care and evaluation. She sets broken wings, vaccinates, medicates and nurses native bats back to health so they can be released. 

Frequently unloved and misunderstood, bats are important to the ecosystem. “A female that’s pregnant or nursing, she’ll eat up to her weight in insects every night, which is, like, thousands of insects,” Campbell said. “They’re like our little superheroes of the night.” 

A New York state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator, Campbell typically has upwards of 80 bats in various stages of recovery and is one of very few animal rescues that specializes in bats because of their unique needs. 

Cornell impacting New York State

“They have very unusual anatomy,” Campbell said. “Their wings are more like hands than bird wings. They’re tiny. They go into hibernation. There are not a lot of resources on how to care for them and how to treat injuries.” 

Over the years, Campbell has had to figure out how to make wing casts, wire a broken jaw, calculate medication doses, perform dentistry on tiny mouths, and determine what and how to feed newcomers and special needs patients. And then there are the pups – no one sells prepackaged bat formula. 

She balances a full-time job at Cornell with what amounts to a full-time job as a bat mom. “I’ve fed many babies at Zoom meetings. Thankfully my colleagues understand,” she said. “I’m pretty much on my own. I had a few volunteers, but COVID basically shut that down.” 

It’s tough to find the bandwidth to recruit and train new volunteers, she said. Plus, New York state requires rabies vaccination and special training to work with bats. 

Campbell nurses bats with torn or broken wings until they can be released back into the wild.

“I haven’t been out of Ithaca since January 2020,” she said. “I haven’t been able to leave because of the number of patients to look after. 

“I wasn’t always the person with over 80 bats in my house where I could never leave. I used to travel quite a bit and do lots of adventurous things. But that need to help animals, for me, is more important than all these other things.” 

Beyond her time, the cost of supplies, food and medicine adds up. “I think last year, I spent like $7,000 on mealworms,” she said. 

Campbell started the rescue in 2008, and for the first five years she cared for many species of local fauna, including skunks, raccoons and owls. But she felt drawn to the bats who found their way to her. 

A big brown bat that Campbell named Grace came to the rescue with a fractured radius (lower arm bone). An x-ray during her recovery shows she was pregnant with twins. She gave birth soon after, and Campbell was able to release her pups into the wild last year. Campbell expects Grace to be ready to follow them this year.

“At that time, white-nose syndrome was really hitting the bat populations,” she said. “My heart went out to the bats. It was just horrible. There are so few people who work with bats for so many reasons. Even rehabilitators, there was just nobody. I really felt they needed some help.” 

White-nose syndrome is an invasive cold-loving fungus that came over from Europe. It thrives in cool caves, and the fungus can grow on the wings, noses and ears of hibernating bats. It damages tissue and rouses bats from their hibernation, using up fat reserves and leading to starvation. 

It is estimated to have killed millions of bats in eastern North America since 2006 and can wipe out entire colonies. 

“It’s probably one of the most devastating wildlife diseases that our native wildlife has faced,” Campbell said. 

Most of the bats she sees at her rescue are big brown bats, which like to roost in homes and buildings and are less susceptible to the disease, but she’s seeing fewer and fewer of the smaller species like Northern long-eared bats, which were placed on the federal endangered species list in 2023. White-nose syndrome has hit these species particularly hard. Fifteen years ago, little brown bats were one of the most numerous mammals in the Northeast. In 2023, she saw three, two of which had white-nose syndrome. 

A screened-in flying enclosure at Wild Things Sanctuary gives bats in recovery a place to practice flying and recover their strength.

Wild Things is such a haven for bats that after release, they often stick around. 

“I have all these grandchildren and great-grandchildren bats,” Campbell said. “I have a huge colony at my house.” Every spring, she recognizes some she released years ago. 

“They’re not aggressive animals. If anything, they might yell at you because you’re so much bigger and they’re terrified,” she said. “They live for decades; they form really close relationships; they have buddies.” 

“They’re really smart, little intelligent animals that do a great service for people.” 

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Kaitlyn Serrao