By Curtis Abraham

 

Kampala, June 29 – Various species of bats, key environmental service providers, are being persecuted and exterminated in parts of the world for their alleged role in the outbreak of the novel human coronavirus (COVID-19), according to conservation organisations that have stressed that there is no conclusive evidence that the disease originated from bats.

 

“There have been numerous reports that communities and governmental authorities in several regions of the world have been culling bats in a misplaced effort to combat the disease (COVID-19),” said a recent statement issued by the African Bat Conservation, an organisation based in Malawi. “However, culling of bats and their criticism during this pandemic are wrong. Exterminating bat roosts won’t do anything to reduce the risk and we cannot try to eliminate the risk by exterminating wild animals.” 

 

Other bat conservation bodies are also receiving similar worrying reports.

 

“Unfortunately, we are getting widespread reports that individuals communities and government authorities are evicting and even killing bats in a misguided attempt to prevent the spread of the disease,” read a press release from Bats without Borders.

 

The origins of the novel coronavirus now ravaging the world remain unclear. 

 

Bats were initially blamed in the international media because a virus (Bat CoV RaTG13 ) found in one insectivorous horseshoe bat species in China in 2013 is a relative of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and is believed to have crossed to human through an intermediate animal species.

 

COVID-19 is being transmitted from person to person and killing bats will do nothing to combat the spread of the disease. People cannot contract the illness directly from bats.

 

However, bats provide important ecosystem services, including pollination, seed dispersal and pest and disease vector control. In Africa, for example, bats pollinate important species such as the iconic baobab tree. (In Madagascar, endemic fruit bats pollinate some of the six endemic species of baobabs, including the dwindling Adansonia suarezensis.)

 

An estimated 70 per cent of bats depend on insects for the main part of their diet. These insectivorous bats control pests that affect various crops, including cotton, corn, beans, and rice. They also consume large numbers of insect pests such as stink bugs, a major pest species of macadamia plantations and disease vectors, such as mosquitoes. Therefore, their dietary needs are mutually beneficial to farmers and crop growers. Killing bats would only adversely affect the conservation status of bat populations and their associated benefits to humans.

 

Bats have the most sophisticated ultrasonic obstacle avoidance and prey detection system in the animal kingdom. They emit high-frequency sounds above the range of human hearing that allow them to locate obstacles and food. Attempts have been made to replicate bat echolocation to produce aids for visually-impaired people.

 

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, bats were already misunderstood and persecuted. They are slaughtered because of ancient superstition

 

In some parts of West and Central Africa, bats are considered a delicacy and are hunted for bushmeat. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has established a Bat Specialist Group to look into threats to bat population.

 

Globally, there are over 1,450 bat species, about 200 of them in Africa.