As regional urbanization increases in Colorado, so do interactions between humans and wildlife. Where previous habitat has been reduced due to urbanization and development, a few bat species that easily adapt to new environments now roost in homes and buildings (Kunz and Reynolds, 2003). Bats frequently serve as reservoirs of disease that have potential health consequences for humans and other mammals (Messenger and others, 2003). As bat use of buildings becomes more frequent, the incidences of bat/human contact and the risk of spreading disease also increase.
In Colorado, rabies is most common in the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) Pape and others, 1999), the most ubiquitous species of urban-dwelling bat in the United States (Barbour and Davis, 1969) and the most common species submitted for rabies testing in Colorado (Pape and others, 1999). An in-depth knowledge of the big brown bat - including its ecology, habitat and movements, and aspects of disease transmission - and of its interactions with humans is essential for making informed management decisions regarding this species. To balance the competing priorities of species preservation and public safety, natural resource managers and public health professionals must be able to accurately estimate citizens‘ knowledge, perceptions, and perceived risks regarding the bat species that use human dwellings and harbor diseases potentially dangerous to humans.
A recently completed five-year ecological study (2001-2005) on bats inhabiting buildings in Fort Collins, Colo., has provided much information on the basic epidemiology of rabies and on the ecology of the local bat population (Davis, Rudd, and Bowen, 2007; Ellison and others, 2007; Neubaum, Douglas, and others, in press; Neubaum, O‘Shea, and Wilson, 2006; Neubaum, Wilson, and O‘Shea, 2007; O‘Shea, Ellison, and Stanley, 2004; Pearce and O‘Shea, 2007; Pearce and others, in press; Shankar and others, 2004; Shankar and others, 2005; Wimsatt and others 2005). Research investigating the human dimensions of bats and bat/rabies relationships, however, has been very limited (Gibbins and others, 2002; Liesener and others, 2006). Herein, we report the results of a study to evaluate perceptions and knowledge of bats and rabies among residents of Fort Collins, Colo. The study resulted from collaborations between U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) bat ecologists of the Trust Species and Habitats branch, and social scientists of the Policy Analysis and Science Assistance branch, both of the USGS Fort Collins Science Center (FORT).