“…One of those big bats that they call vampires had got at her in the night, and what with his gorge and the vein left open, there wasn't enough blood in her to let her stand up,….." (Bram Stocker, Dracula)
Ever haunted by such horrifying bats in the fairy tales in the old comic books? Bram stocker’s vampires have indeed lost most of their charms in this digital era. So do their real world counterparts. They may not haunt you long. Of the 1100 bat species reported all over the globe, more than half are in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red data index facing threat of extinction. Among these, many are endemic to India.
The alarming trends in the global bat population have pressed United Nations Environment Programme to launch the ‘Year of the Bat’ campaign to create awareness about conserving bat species. UN’s convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) and Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (EUROBATS) play the lead roles in the campaign internationally.
Indian Bat Species: Under threat
According to latest data available with the IUCN, four bat species endemic to India are endangered with their population trend showing a decrease. Three other species are on the way to join them, with a ‘vulnerable’ status in the IUCN red list, their population shows trends of decrease over the last few years.
Bat Conservation – Need of the hour
Contrary to the common perception of bats as the nocturnal flying nuisance devouring eatable fruits, they deliver many ecologically and economically important services like pollination, seed dispersal and insect control. It is estimated that Bat populations in large urban areas can consume up to 30,000 pounds of insects in a single night. They are the most effective biological control over many pests that threaten farmers in the country.
In the Indian context, the seed dispersal and pollination done by bats are very crucial. The invisible relation between these night-flyers and plants are amazing. A study reports 28 different species of chiropterophilous plants -plants which solely depend on bats for their pollination- in India. Another study on threatened animals of key economic importance claims at least 443 plant products useful to mankind are derived from 163 plant species that rely to some degree on bats for pollination or seed dispersal.
Latidens Salimalii, one among the endangered bat species which is endemic to India, is a prime agent of seed dispersal in the rain forests, and so, vital for the survival of tall rain fruiting trees of the Agashyamalai range of Western Ghats.
Moreover, status of the bats acts as an indicator to the entire health of the ecosystem. Researchers monitoring ecosystem trends like level of bio magnification of pesticides make use of this indicative capacity of bats.
Threats and challenges in Bat conservation
Habitat destruction and hibernation disturbances due to human interference like urbanization and poaching are the major reasons for the decline of bat populations. In India, hunting for meat is another reason. The fruit growers’ conflict with these nocturnal wanderers also adds to their survival threat.
But the damage they cause to fruit plantations is often exaggerated so much, that it shadows the crucial services they deliver. This is one of the reasons why Schedule V of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and its amendments, still term bats as vermin. Though the use of sacrificial crops among fruit plantations is suggested as an effective measure to reduce the damage caused by bats to commercial fruits, no heed is given in this direction. Instead, bats are dangerously driven to extinction in the Indian sub continent.
May ‘Year of Bats’, help conserving bats better, or we shall go back to old comics till the day human also start facing survival threats in this rapidly depleting planet.