Bats are outstanding natural pollinators facilitating cross pollination in a wide diversity of flowering plants. Not many people know that in tropical and subtropical forests several tree species with flowers at the very high canopies are exclusively dependent on nocturnal bat pollination for their survival.
By Saikat Kumar Basu
They perform an outstanding ecological service to maintain the dynamics of our natural ecosystems. Furthermore, they also play an important role in controlling insect numbers by consuming a large number of insects every night. Unfortunately they are misrepresented in our society and there is an acute lack of education and awareness about the importance of bats in our ecosystems.
There is an increasing awareness about bat conservation in many countries in North and South America, Europe and Asia. But more work needs to be done to protect this majestic species from extinction as their numbers are dwindling rapidly. It is therefore necessary to start a comprehensive bat conservation program. In spite of the great ecological role played by the bats in our ecosystem; historically and socioculturally they have always been branded with numerous superstitions like black magic, evil deeds and thoughts, bad karma, symbolic representation of future death and destruction, diseases and negative influence on our lives. The cult classic literary character Count Dracula by novelist Bam Stroker has further imprinted in people’s mind unnecessary fear and negative feelings towards bats for centuries.
There are many people around the world who thinks that every single bat to be a vampire thriving on animal and human blood. But truly speaking only a handful species, for example a few small cave bats in Mexico and Central America are actually vampires feeding on the blood of livestock. However a wide diversity of bat species are actually frugivorous (eating fruits), consume floral nectaries and different insects.
Some carnivorous species are also known to science. It is also true that the bats are carriers as well as host for various parasites and viral borne diseases. But it is some ethnic groups from Asia and Africa who like bat as food sources are responsible for the spread of bat viruses. The bat themselves could not be held responsible for this. It is the human consumers, poachers, hunters, wildlife traders and marketers who are truly responsible for this. Hence, we can conclude that in spite of the positive ecological role that bats play in nature; we as humans have mistreated them due to our ignorance, fear, lack of education and awareness and lack of empathy towards bat biology, bat behaviour, diets well as bat nesting and foraging practices.
Only fairly recently we are coming to understand that a bit more than we have done in the past. But it is too late, since several species of bats worldwide are showing signs of significant population decline due to uncontrolled poaching, high demand for bush (wild) meat in illegal wildlife markets operating in various parts of Asia, Africa, Latin America and in other continents, pollution, extensive use of pesticides in agriculture, anthropogenic forest fires, drastic loss and fragmentation of bat habitats and lack of food sources for them. Under the circumstances, it will be very important to establish comprehensive conservation strategies for protecting the bats worldwide. Unless we act now, it may be too late to save our friendly bats from complete extinction in the not so distant future.