Environment

Stop villainising bats, say scientists and conservationists

The recent discovery of COVID-19 in South Asian bats poses no known health hazard to humans.

The recent discovery of COVID-19 in South Asian bats poses no known health hazard to humans.  

Unverified news and social media posts linking bats to the COVID-19 outbreak have led to widespread antipathy and there have been increasing incidents of the public destroying bat roosts and smoking them out. To raise awareness, 64 chiropterologists (those who study bats) from six South Asian countries have released a document clarifying myths about bats and strongly affirming that bats do not spread COVID-19.

They also clarify that the bat coronaviruses (BtCoV) found in two species of Indian bats (in a recent Indian Council of Medical Research study) are not the same as SARS-CoV-2 and cannot cause COVID-19.

Also read: Awareness programme by distributing bat printed masks

“Human activities and encroaching upon wildlife habitats puts us at risk of encountering new viruses. We need to modify human practices to prevent the emergence of new pathogens.”, says Arinjay Banerjee, a postdoctoral researcher at McMaster University, Canada in the release. He studies bat viruses and was part of the team that isolated the COVID-19 virus.

 

The researchers write that the exact origin of SARS-CoV-2 is still unknown and it is premature to blame bats or any other animal for the pandemic.

“Killing bats and destroying their habitats can be more harmful as this can lead to bats spreading out their habitat. We should remember that all wild animals harbour viruses and it is very biased and unfair to point fingers only at bats. If we keep destroying habitats, there are chances of the spread of other viruses from other animals to humans,” explains Harish Prakash, Ph.D. scholar, at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, to The Hindu.

The researchers and conservationists highlight that bats perform vital ecosystem services such as pollination and pest control and provide intangible economic benefits.

 

They urge the governments of South Asian countries to strengthen the legal framework to protect bats. As only two species (out of 128) are protected by law in India, the researchers ask the government to reconsider and reinforce the laws governing bat conservation.

“The current pandemic is an outcome of the ongoing ecological destruction, increasing intensification of livestock farming and wildlife trade. We request the media to not oversimplify scientific evidence, to emphasise the role of humans in disease outbreaks, and to highlight the importance of coexistence with bats in urban landscapes,” they write.

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Printable version | Aug 10, 2020 12:19:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/stop-villainising-bats-say-scientists-and-conservationists/article31429962.ece

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