sign in a cave in Laos

8 June 2008

Batty friends in need of our protection - Brunei Times

Published on The Brunei Times (
Batty friends in need of our protection

Nightly pursuits: Bats, like the one on bottom, are mainly nocturnal, hunting for food at night. During the day, they hang upside down in their roosts. Among their preferred roosting places are caves, like the one on top, buildings and hollow trees. Pictures: Liz Price

Liz Price

Friday, March 7, 2008

DID your mother ever warn you to be careful at night, to make sure a bat doesn't fly into your hair? Have you heard the expressions "bats in the belfry" or "blind as a bat"? Did you spend late nights terrified in front of the TV watching scary films where bats were rampant and attacking humans?

These are some of the misconstructions that we humans have about bats.

Bats are our friends. This is how we should consider those nocturnal mammals that fly in the dark. They are of great use to us humans, and we should be pleased to have them around.

Sadly bats have a bad reputation among the general public; all over the world they have a somewhat dubious status.

They suffer a bad press creatures of the darkness both literally and figuratively. This negativity has been around for hundreds of years. Bats so often appear in horror films as evil creatures of the night. Everybody knows the Dracula stories, in which blood-sucking vampires appear out of dark crypts in the old haunted castles of Transylvania.

Actually vampire bats do exist, but you will not find them in Asia. They live in central and South America, where they suck blood generally from horses and cattle. Like leeches, they do not harm their host. Their saliva contains an anticoagulant and the bats can feed while the host remains unaware of their presence.

Bats don't get tangled in ladies' hair, they don't bite the necks of humans, and they are not unclean. They are not vermin. Admittedly they can carry rabies, but as the general public normally never comes into contact with bats, this is not a problem rabid dogs and monkeys potentially present more of a danger.

Bats have many good points. They are very useful to us as they help to pollinate bananas, durian and petai, which flower at night. They also aid in seed dispersal and propagation of some rain forest plants.

Mangrove trees are pollinated by flying foxes. Bats help to control the insect population. They consume pests which would otherwise cause damage and spread disease.

In Deer Cave in Mulu National Park in Sarawak, an estimated one to two million bats live in the one cave. Every night they fly out to feed, each bat eats at least 10g of insects during a night of hunting, so this is at least 10 tonnes of insects consumed in a single night. Can you imagine 10 tonnes of mosquitoes? This results in a few tonnes of guano falling to the floor. Guano can be used as a fertiliser.

Medical researchers are now developing a drug which breaks down blood clots, which can be of great use to stroke victims and people suffering from thrombosis. The scientists are isolating a protein from the bat saliva which interferes with the process of blood clotting.

Village people across the world have used bats for their medicinal properties. A Malaysian folk cure for asthma and chest complaints uses roasted bat hearts mixed with coffee.

Some Cambodians believe that the fruit bat soup is a good cure for heart trouble and asthma. There is a profitable trade in these winged mammals. The head is cut off for traditional medicine, the blood is mixed with rich alcohol, and the meat is used to make rice soup.

In Maharashtra in India, bats are welcomed for their therapeutic powers. Stalls sell bottles of bat oil which is alleged to work wonders against rheumatism and arthritis. Made of bat's fat and a little amount of blood mixed with coconut oil and camphor, a small quantity of this ancient essence rubbed on the body is said to work wonders.

The bat god figured prominently in the mythology of many different cultures of Mexico more than 2,000 years ago. The bat, because of its association with the night and its silent flight, represented death.

Bats belong to the taxonomic order Chiroptera. Worldwide there are more than 900 species of bats. The US is known to have 40 species of bats, whereas England only has 15. In Malaysia there are about 100 species. There are two main types of bats, the insect feeders and the fruit bats.

Bats are the only mammals which can fly. Like many other mammals, they have fur, and give birth to live young. Individuals can live up to 20 years. Bats have been on Earth for about 50 million years.

There is a popular saying: "as blind as a bat." In fact bats are not blind. The fruit bats rely on their eyesight to navigate. Insect eating bats have very small eyes in comparison and navigate by echolocation.

Bats are mainly nocturnal and hang upside down in their roosts. They roost in buildings, caves, hollow trees, foliage, crevices in rocks, and in spaces under the bark of trees. Some make tents out of the leaves of plants, others roost in the hollow stems of bamboo, having entered the stems through holes made by wood-boring beetles. Many bats throughout the world roost in buildings and are often a considerable nuisance. Species that roost in caves, trees, or buildings often form huge colonies.

Flying foxes are the biggest bats, and sometimes can be seen hanging in trees where they roost, seemingly undisturbed by sunlight. Sadly their numbers are dwindling.

Their populations have been decimated by habitat destruction, colony eradication by fruit growers, over-harvesting for human consumption and unregulated hunting (for food and sport). Some species are becoming extinct and this could have adverse affects on the many bat-dependent plants and the ecosystems and economies they support.

Bats need protection. Increased awareness of the vital role that these bats play in the life cycle of commercially important plants is necessary. In some countries such as the UK and US, bats receive protection and there are heavy penalties for harming or even handling certain species. However, in Peninsula Malaysia, only flying foxes are partially protected under the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972, but even these can still be hunted for food, with a licence. In Sarawak, all bats are protected.

So remember that bats are actually our friends, and we need them in our ecosystem. They will not harm you, so please do not harm them. The Brunei Times


Source URL:

No comments:

Post a Comment