Karnataka

Trust gets a pat on the back for bat protection mission in Kolar

Though COVID-19 created a negative perception about bats among people, communities living close to the Kolar leaf-nosed bat say they haven’t faced any issues from them.   | Photo Credit: File Photo

The year that went by was not a good one for bats. They were looked at with suspicion for being the possible culprits that spread a virus that paralysed the world. But in a little-known part of Karnataka, efforts to conserve a supremely rare species of bats have earned praise and funding.

For its work on conserving the critically endangered Kolar leaf-nosed bat, Bat Conservation India Trust was recently picked for the ‘Lesser-known Species Grant’ by The Habitats Trust, which aims to secure key habitats and indigenous species.

The Kolar leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros hypophyllus) is said to have been first described in 1994 based on specimens collected from Therahalli and Hanumanahalli, and is unique among the Hipposideros family as it has only one pair of supplementary leaflets around its nose leaf. “This species has not been documented anywhere else after it was first described in 1994. There wasn’t any specific attention given to search and study on this bat till the beginning of 2013,” said Rajesh Puttaswamaiah, citizen scientist and trustee, Bat Conservation India Trust.

It is found only in a cave on a small hillock in Hanumanahalli, which is surrounded by agricultural land. Nearly 50% of the protected area is covered by the hill and remaining 50% is scrubland, he explained. “If we need to protect the species from extinction, we need to not only protect its roost site (home), but also protect its foraging area (food source). We have been collaborating with the Forest Department on various aspects, including preparing a short-term conservation action plan, designing a notification board to be installed around the reserve, educating the forest staff, and creating attractive photos of the bats to garner required support,” said Mr. Puttaswamaiah.

Interestingly, though COVID-19 created a negative perception about bats among people, the communities living close to the bats defend them, saying they have been living around these bats for hundreds of years and haven’t faced any issues so far, he said. “Our first step is to engage with the community and instil a sense of pride in them to protect these bats and their habitats. We have planned a few outreach programs and identified a few youngsters to participate in our research activities,” he added. They will also be starting analysis to identify the extent of foraging area and their preferred habitats in each season, before developing a long-term conservation action plan.

The State forest officials involved in the project also echoed similar concerns. “The most important point is that this bat species is exclusive to Karnataka. The basic thing the Forest Department took up was to protect their roost sites. Along with other agencies, such as the Revenue Department, we were able to get it notified as a conservation reserve though it is not in a forest area, as we have done substantially in Karnataka in many places,” said a senior official.

Challenges

The major issue, officials said, was that the area of the hillock was under pressure for quarrying. “The other challenge is that the landscape around Kolar has changed drastically. We don’t know what these bats eat and come back. From what we heard, these are bats which eat insects, or they could be omnivorous. Are they feeding only on insects of crops, and are these crops still being grown? We don’t know. All these aspects, where they go, and what they feed on are being looked into now,” the official said.

Though local communities have been extremely supportive, protecting the area from travellers, for instance, remains a priority, for which watchers have been deployed.

Trisha Ghose, project director, The Habitats Trust, said the Lesser-known Species Grant aims to support organisations that are working to protect threatened species that form the backbone of our ecosystem, but have not necessarily been afforded the same level of conservation attention give to the tiger, elephant, rhino, or leopard. An important criterion is that the species must be listed as ‘threatened’ or ‘data deficit’ as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature or on Schedule 1 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act of India.

About the Kolar leaf-nosed bat and the conservation efforts attached to it, she said, “This elusive species has only been recorded from one cave in Kolar and its population is estimated to be a mere 150 to 200 surviving in the wild. Their numbers are rapidly declining because of changing land use, hunting, and stone quarrying in their only remaining habitat. Under the project, we will be carrying out surveys to assess the habitat, ecology, and population of the Kolar leaf-nosed bat with the goal of developing a long-term conservation plan to prevent its silent extinction,” she said. She acknowledged that despite the essential ecological functions bats play as pollinators and pest controllers, they have long been feared and demonised — a problem only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2021 9:06:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/trust-gets-a-pat-on-the-back-for-bat-protection-mission-in-kolar/article33951710.ece

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