Bats turn villains amid scare

Some residents are taking it upon themselves to remove habitats of bats fearing them to be carriers of COVID-19.  

In the midst of a border-less pandemic that is devastating lives, hapless bats are emerging as villains. Panicked residents are either making desperate calls to the authorities concerned, or taking it upon themselves to remove habitats of bats fearing them to be carriers of the dreaded COVID-19.

Wildlife activist Joseph Hoover said he has been getting calls from concerned citizens alerting him about residents in different localities attempting to destroy bat habitats. A few days ago, a resident wanting to axe a tree which housed bats in J.P. Nagar was prevented from doing so after neighbours alerted the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s (BBMP) forest cell, which intervened in time.

“The complaint initially started in J.P. Nagar, but it has become a trend everywhere to cut down trees to prevent bats, thanks to wrong narrative from some media. We are already losing bees and bats that are known to be good pollinators. Where is the food security if they go?” he asked.

A few days ago, the ICMR and National Institute of Virology, Pune, published a study on the subject. The study, ‘Detection of coronaviruses in Pteropus & Rousettus species of bats from different States of India’, said bats are considered “the natural reservoir for many viruses, of which some are potential human pathogens.”

“In India, an association of Pteropus medius bats with the Nipah virus was reported in the past. It is suspected that the recently emerged severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) also has its association with bats,” the researchers said, explaining the need of the study.

However, the results of the study found that the strain found in bats were different from the ones in humans, said Rajesh Puttaswamaiah, Citizen Scientist and Trustee, Bat Conservation India Trust. “The pandemic has set off panic across India. In the ICMR study, they found that two species of bats were found to host coronavirus. If you look at coronavirus, there are lots of strains. SARS COV-2 is what has been found in humans, and the strain found in the bats were different,” he said.

People also need to understand the role of bats in the ecosystem, Mr. Puttaswamaiah said. “It is a historically neglected species. There are 128 bat species in India. Most people will only talk about myths, but not their benefits,” he said.

He further explained that there are two main categories, one of which is the large-sized fruit eaters which consume nectar, fruits and tender leaves. As they are nocturnal in nature, they go for trees which flower in the night. So these trees are also dependent on bats. They are pollinators for many commercial plants and crops, such as durian and banana, he said, adding that bats aid seed disposal over vast areas. The second category, microbats, are natural pest control as their main food is mosquitoes and moths, he explained.

“But grape growers categorised them as vermin because they attack grape vines. There is no protection for bats because of this. Considering the damage now, it is important for the government to formulate protection for bats,” he added, also urging citizens not to destroy their natural habitat and co-exist with wildlife.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2022 2:17:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/bats-turn-villains-amid-scare/article31400031.ece

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