Ever since the novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19 pandemic tore through the globe in December last year, the finger of suspicion has pointed to one animal species: Bats.
The winged nocturnal animals, the only mammals capable of true flight, have never really enjoyed good press, except for, say Batman!
However, COVID-19 is bringing out the worst in humanity towards bats.
Many have suggested removing bat roosts and even killing them, suspecting them to be carriers of SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
When humans contract a coronavirus, it typically happens due to contact with an infected animal.
Some of the most common carriers are bats, though they do not typically transmit coronaviruses directly to humans.
Instead, the transmission might occur via an intermediary animal, which will usually, though not always, be a domestic one.
Some scientists speculated that COVID-19 spread to humans via intermediary pangolin.
In the case of the new coronavirus, initial reports from China tied the outbreak to a seafood market in central Wuhan.
As a result, local authorities closed down the market on January 1, 2020.
However, later assessments have suggested that bats were unlikely to be the main source of the coronavirus outbreak, as some people with the virus early on had no connection with it.
Specialists have not yet been able to determine the true source of the virus or even confirm whether there was a single original reservoir.
So unnecessary bats should not be the object of hatred by us for outbreak of Covid 19 through out the globe!
Bats have been called sinister and spooky for centuries, likely because of their beady eyes and razor-sharp fangs.
In every spine chilling horror movie or fiction – bats thus symbolize with fear and scare.
But there’s more to these nocturnal creatures than meets the eyes.
There are more than 1,300 species of bats in the world, making them the second most common group of mammals after rodents.
Some weigh less than a penny, while others have a wingspan of six feet, but all are impressive and vital members of their ecosystems.
There are two main types of bats: microbats and megabats. Most bats are microbats, which eat insects like moths, that come out at night.
Vampire bats are the only species of microbats that feed on blood rather than insects.
But not to worry—they prefer to drink from cattle and horses, not humans!
Despite all the misconceptions surrounding bats, they are very important to humans and the environment.
Insect-eating microbats consume millions of bugs a night.
One bat can eat up to 600 mosquitoes in an hour. Bat also act as a natural pest control for plants.
Thanks to bats, farmers might rely less on toxic pesticides, which costs them millions of dollars each year.
Nectar-drinking bats pollinate plants so they can produce fruit.
In fact, more than 500 plant species, including mangoes, bananas, and avocados, depend on bats for pollination.
Finally, fruit-eating bats help disperse seeds so rainforests can grow, helping to mitigate the effects of widespread deforestation.
They play critical roles worth billions of dollars as pollinators, seed dispersers and agents of pest suppression.
In South Asia, they are the main pollinators for mahua (Mahduca latifolia), kapok (Ceiba pentandra), Indian trumpet flower (Oroxylum indicum), chiuri (Dipoloknema buyracea) and petai Parkia spp.
The insectivorous bats have proven valuable agents of pest suppression, voraciously eating rice pests in studies from Italy, Spain, Madagascar, Thailand and the Philippines.
Doubtless, they do the same in India and rest of South Asia!
Now these flying mammals of dark are having a park.
Nowhere in the world one can see such a unique park for preservation one of the most interesting species and that park is in Tripura – the third smallest state in India.
Yes, you heard it right; in a move to attract more tourists to the state, the Tourism department and the state Forest department of Tripura have set up a ‘bat viewpoint’ at Bagma in Gomati district, about 55 km from state capital Agartala.
There are many Andaman padauk trees (Pterocarpus dalbergioides) at Bagma, which are not otherwise native, in the area.
The trees are extremely tall and are an ideal site for the resting of the mammals.
As bats are very important to maintain the ecological balance and environment, the State Government has taken initiatives to save those bats and also develop this place as a tourist destination.
The viewpoint was set up in May 2019.
At present, there are around 5,000 bats taking shelter in about 40-50 Andaman padauk trees.
Most of the bats in this park are known as ‘Indian flying foxes’.
These bats are also known as the greater Indian fruit bats and one of the largest bats in the world.
This species is often regarded as vermin due to its destructive tendencies towards fruit farms, but the benefits of its pollination and seed propagation often outweigh the impacts of fruit consumption.
Further, it is to be mentioned here that including India the Indian flying fox is found across various Asian countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, China, Tibet, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
It roosts in large, established colonies on open tree branches, especially in urban areas or in temples.
It prefers to roost on tall trees with small diameters and prefers to be in close proximity to water bodies, human residences, and agricultural land.
This habitat selection is highly dependent on food availability.
Interestingly, Tripura also has he smallest bats, and arguably the smallest extant mammal, is Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, which is 29–34 mm (1.14–1.34 in) in length, 15 cm (5.91 in) across the wings and 2–2.6 g (0.07–0.09 oz) in mass!
In the viewpoint – a shed using natural materials such as thatch and poles constructed and would also install a telescope for viewing the bats for the public.
Display signs about the species in and around the region would also be required for better information dissemination.
The area is fenced since the location is quite prominent and is located along the national highway.
The area could very well be a part of the eco-tourism circuits of the state.
It is heard that the Forest Department of Tripura is also planning to set up two or three other bat viewpoint across the state.
Enclosed by Bangladesh on the north, south and west, the state also borders Assam and Mizoram in its east.
Modern Tripura was part of an independent Tripuri kingdom that reigned here for many centuries.
Tripura is famous among tourists for its unique culture, beautiful landscapes amidst the gorgeous Himalayan ranges and varies.
The verdant beauty whisper legends which are so old that they have no written records, yet they are very much in the minds of the local Tripuris who are in constant touch with flora and fauna; even species like bats are also thus conserved and preserved by them.
Bats serve as an integral and important part of the ecological web chain, and protection and conservation of the Bat habitat is undoubtedly indispensable.
But some bat species are nowadays either threatened or endangered.
Predators include snakes, hawks, owls, cats, raccoons, skunks, weasels and martens.
And unfortunately, destroying the forest – rapid growth of urbanization also has had the most detrimental impact on bat populations.
These mysterious flying mammals are truly incredible and worthy of both praise and conservation.
That’s why bat viewpoint at Bagma in Tripura is so important and undoubtedly worth visiting!
Sankha Subhra Devbarman is Regional Director for North East India, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India