Forget Covid fear – it’s time to save the bat! Here’s why we need to stop the decline in bat populations
By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
Some find them creepy, while others find them kinda cute. They represent nasty things like vampires, and fun things, like Hallowe’en. But these days, we associate them with the Coronavirus, and that’s a shame: we need to save the bat!
Although the origins of the virus that swept through the world are disputed, some suggest it originated in Chinese wet markets, where bats are sold for soup.
Other researchers, however, insist that the virus may have been born in a laboratory. Documents obtained by The Mail on Sunday show the Wuhan Institute of Virology undertook coronavirus experiments on mammals captured more than 1,000 miles away in Yunnan – apparently funded by a $3.7 million grant from the US government.
But for the purposes of this article, the origins of the virus are irrelevant. The point is that thanks to much media hype about ‘bat soup’ and Coronavirus, prejudice against these tiny animals has reached epic proportions, to the point where bats are being slaughtered out of pure fear.
For example, in Indonesia, authorities have recently rounded up and burnt hundreds of bats because they associate them to Covid-19. In San Francisco, residents have been asking experts how to trap or kill bats, thinking it would prevent the spread of Covid-19 and save lives. People in China have asked authorities to kill hibernating bats. Frightened locals in Peru are also burning the poor creatures to death.
This has triggered a call to action to save bats, with the Servicio Nacional Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre (SERFOR) rescuing the mammals and releasing them in a cave far away from the area of Culden, where they were being tortured and killed.
Mark Jones, a vet and head of policy at the Born Free Foundation, said that even when wild animals may be the source of a disease, they are not to blame for the transmission of the virus to people.
“When animals are stressed, their immune systems are suppressed, allowing viruses to replicate and mutate so they can infect new hosts such as people. When wild animals of different species are captured or farmed and put together in large numbers in awful conditions, where they’re highly stressed and sold in wildlife markets, in close proximity to each other and to people that’s where the biggest risk of these viruses mutating into a form that can infect people exists,” he said to the Independent newspaper.
Save The Bat!
Even if you think they’re a bit creepy, we must remember all the benefits that bats have on the environment. For example, as SERFOR in Peru explains: “70% of the species in the world feed off insects, many of which are harmful to agriculture and our health, like mosquitoes that spread dengue and other diseases.”
Not only do they get rid of mosquitoes, but bats also:
- seldom transmit disease to humans or animals.
- are usually harmless and serve as indicators of a healthy ecosystem.
- are efficient pollinators and voracious predators of nocturnal insects
- have a substantial economic and ecological impact on agriculture
- disperse seeds from fruit
In short, bats are an essential part of our ecosystem. But these creatures are having a tough time not only due to human hysteria and fear, but due to other human activities, too.
Weak and Dying
Bats were already in serious decline before people started going crazy and burning them to death.
Hazel Ryan of the Kent Bat Group in England said: “This (2019) is our worst ever year for starving bats found in the wild.” In Pennsylvania, USA, five insectivorous bat species are on the endangered species list — reporting a 99 percent decline in bat populations in that state.
University of Sussex Biology Professor Dave Goulson blames a huge decline in insect populations for the decline of bats and other wildlife. “Almost everybody over the age of about 50 years old can remember a time when any long-distance drive in summer resulted in a windscreen so splattered with dead insects that it was necessary to stop occasionally to scrub them off.” He then continues, “without insects, a multitude of birds, bats, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and fish disappear, for they would have nothing to eat.”
Many experts blame the use of highly toxic pesticides for the decline in insect populations, which has a knock-on effect of killing other animals, as mentioned by Professor Goulson above. But in addition, the minuscule size and high rate of metabolism in insects is affected much more severely than larger creatures by radiofrequency radiation. Studies have shown that after just ten minutes’ exposure to a cell phone, the metabolism of a honey bee comes to a virtual standstill, causing effective starvation, for example.
Some people, such as Arthur Firstenberg, who is campaigning to obtain an International Appeal to Stop 5G on Earth and Space, believe signals from phone antennas are so damaging to nature, they should be abolished altogether. He says: “For most people this seems like an impossibility, but that is because they do not remember that only 25 years ago almost no one owned a cell phone.” He continues: “Then, the air was full of butterflies and birds, and the streams were full of tadpoles and frogs…Radio waves and gamma rays are only two ends of a continuous spectrum; they are essentially the same phenomenon and have the same disastrous effects on our bodies, wildlife, and our planet.”
Firstenberg is not alone in his thoughts. EKLIPSE, an EU-funded review body dedicated to policy that may impact biodiversity and the ecosystem, looked over 97 studies on how electromagnetic radiation may affect the environment. It concluded this radiation could indeed pose a potential risk to the orientation of bats and birds, as well as plant health, as reported in The Telegraph.
This is not a new finding, as studies dating back for years have come to the same conclusion. In fact, one study from 2010 even suggested that this electromagnetic radiation may be playing a role in the decline of certain animals – including bats – as well as insect populations. Radio waves can disrupt the magnetic “compass” that many bats, migrating birds and insects use. Such creatures may become disorientated and die, AFP reported – and 5G will make the situation even worse.
So, What Can We Do?
So what can we humans do to help to save the bat?
Firstly, we need to stop the hysteria. There is NO need to harm bats – or any animal – because you think it brings disease. It’s not the animal that can harm us with a virus per se; it’s the result of our close proximity to such animals in food markets, for example.
So that brings me to my second point: wildlife markets should end. Full stop. And we humans need to stop crowding animals into horrific conditions. It’s the stress these animals suffer in factory farms and crowded cages that reduces their immune systems and leads to disease in the first place.
Thirdly, we need to end the use of toxic pesticides, particularly neonicotinoid pesticides. And we need to move cell phone towers far, far away from nature.
Finally, we need to nurture and protect bats, just as we would for birds. The Organization for Bat Conservation encourages people to build or buy a bat house for your garden. Why not give it a try?
Bats are our allies for farming, by eating bugs that can harm crops. Like bees, they also help with pollinisation, and are thus an essential part of our ecosystem.
Bats protect us from harm, despite the bad publicity they’ve been receiving lately, and it is our duty to return the favour.