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Pokémon Go Players Are Rescuing Lots Of Real Wildlife

“This is pretty much the first time I’ve seen something like this,” said one wildlife rehabilitator.

Real and fake bats, together at last.

Real and fake bats, together at last. (Photo: Angell Williams/altered by Cara Giaimo/CC BY 2.0)

Late Monday evening, Olivia Case of Spencer, New York drove to her local laundromat with her iPhone and her three-year-old daughter Lucy. Case, a Pokémon Go fanatic, was after a Dratini—a rare blue dragon-type with pointy ears, who she had heard was spawning nearby.

Instead, as she pulled into the parking lot, she found something else—a baby bat, wriggling around on the ground in front of the building. “He was in this really bright light and he wasn’t going anywhere,” Case says, so after soliciting advice from Google, she moved him to a darker spot, thinking he might be able to get himself together. “I went around to look for the Pokémon,” she says, “and I came back about 45 minutes later and he was still there. He hadn’t moved.” So she dialed up Cornell Animal Hospital.

Over the past few weeks, a number of would-be Pokémasters have been jarred out of their digital reveries by a more tangible target—actual animals. In most cases, players will laugh, snap a picture, and move on, maybe getting their find ID’d by some willing biologists on Twitter. But some animals, like the bat, fulfill the fantasy even further—they actually need to be caught.

A more typical Pokémon experience.

A more typical Pokémon experience. (Image: brar_j/CC BY 2.0)

The whole ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All,’ it’s great!” says Victoria Campbell, owner of Wild Things Sanctuary in Ithaca, New York. Campbell specializes in bat rehabilitation, and when Case called in her winged rescue, they sent her to Campbell. “They showed up at almost midnight with this baby bat,” she says. “I was like ‘Wow, where did you find it?’ and they were like, ‘We were out playing Pokémon Go.’”

Over the past couple of weeks, Cornell Animal Hospital has gotten in a screech owl, rabbits, an opossum, and a baby squirrel, all from players out hunting fake monsters, says Campbell. In her nine years as a wildlife rehabilitator, no fad has brought in as many injured critters: “This is pretty much the first time I’ve seen something like this,” she says.

This trend, too, is sweeping the nation. In Rochester, New York, a man Pokémoning found eight ducklings stuck in a storm drain, and flagged down an officer, who yanked open the grate. (With actual animals, “you catch them in real life,” the rescuer told TWC News.)

In South Houston, Texas, a couple of players rescued a cage full of hamsters and baby mice, abandoned in a park near a Pokéstop. “For such a good deed, I hope you find a legendary Pokémon,” one supportive Facebook commenter told them. All fuzzy parties involved are now recovering at local animal hospitals.

This time of the year, it’s not unusual to find confused young bats who have crash-landed while hunting or bumbled into human habitations, says Campbell. Luckily, catching a wild, injured bat is not too much more difficult than tossing a virtual Pokéball. “If you find a little bat when you’re searching for a Zubat, don’t freak out!” Campbell says.

If it’s on the ground, or having trouble flying, she recommends the spider-catching method—put a container over the animal, and slide a piece of cardboard gently underneath—or simply putting on gloves and placing it into a box. Then, call your local rehabilitator, the real world’s Professor equivalent.

Zubat, one of many the Poké-rescues.

Zubat, one of many the Poké-rescues. (Photo: Victoria Campbell)

As for this particular bat, he’s doing well—drinking fluids, eating mealworms, and getting ready to rejoin his own kind. Campbell has named him, fittingly, Zubat. And Case (and her daughter Lucy) are happy that their app became reality.

“If I wasn’t playing, then I would have never found him,” says Case. “So I’m really happy that I’m so addicted to this game.”

Naturecultures is a weekly column that explores the changing relationships between humanity and wilder things. Have something you want covered (or uncovered)? Send tips to [email protected].