As an advocate for the health of humans and wildlife, the Himalayan Mutt Project is helping to clarify misplaced fears that bats cause COVID-19. Nepal is home to some 52 species of bats, which can be found anywhere between the Himalayas, the desert and its tropical rainforests. A new species to science, the Csorba’s mouse-eared myotis is an insectivorous vesper bat that was discovered in a single cave in far western Nepal in 2000. Little is known about the bats of Nepal, but what we do know from the stories by Himalayan people is that bats have been living alongside humans peacefully and quietly for at least hundreds of years.
The Himalayan Mutt Project is unfortunately familiar with the wrongful killing of animals. The mass culling of neutered and vaccinated community dogs can undo years of population control efforts. Ill-informed animal culls do not reduce the impact of disease transmission or attacks on humans or livestock, and could even exacerbate the introduction of new diseases and cause an increase in dog population when un-neutered and unvaccinated vagrant dogs enter and re-colonise an area made vacant by a recent cull. Information and education can overcome fear, and support the development of appropriate and sustainable solutions.
Bats do not spread COVID-19.
COVID-19 is a severe acute respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
SARS-CoV-2 is being transmitted from humans to other humans. There is no evidence that bats infected humans with SARS-CoV-2. Inaccurate reports that suggest otherwise may contribute to misplaced fears and the ill-advised killing of bats.
The exact origins of SARS-CoV-2 remain under scientific investigation. RaTG13 is a SARS-CoV-like coronavirus  sampled from a Rhinolophus affinis bat . While it is ~96% identical overall to SARS-CoV-2, current evidence suggests that it may not bind efficiently to the human cell receptor ACE2 . There is consensus that the “ancestral strains” of SARS-CoV-2 were zoonotic, and were transmitted from an animal to a human at some point. Where, when, and how this occurred, and with which species of animal (wild or domestic), remains unknown.
Bats pose no risk to human health in their natural environment. Killing bats will not stop COVID-19 and may cause irreversible harm to these unique flying mammals.
Preserving ecosystems and restoring natural habitats can ensure wildlife don't need to forage near where humans and their domestic animal live.
Bats provide enormous benefits to humanity.
Bats support the economy of small-scale and industrial fruit farmers by pollinating fruit trees. This service is seldom witnessed or appreciated because bats feed at night. In Nepal, bats provide pollination for the Indian butter tree (Nepali:चिउरी, Chiuri), Indian trumpet flower (Oroxylum indicum, consumed as a food and for herbal remedies), bananas, mangoes, and litchi.
Bats create forests by dispersing the seeds of fruiting trees. Bats are able to cover great distances every day, and some species are known to migrate across entire continents. As they move, bats distribute seeds across vast landscapes. These activities help forests recover from disturbances such as bush fires. By creating forests, bats support entire ecosystems and communities of plants, animals and humans. In Nepal, bats are important seed dispersers for guava, chiuri, and figs.
Insectivorous bats consume thousands of insects every night. This helps plants and humans by reducing the number of pests that could damage crops and foliage. Insectivorous bats are also an important food source for birds of prey, some of which are uniquely adapted to feed on bats.
Learn the facts about bats and clarify the links to COVID-19.
Coronavirus: three misconceptions about how animals transmit diseases debunked (The Conversation)
Virus Researchers Cast Doubt On Theory Of Coronavirus Lab Accident
(NPR) [3 min podcast]
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS),
Conservation of Populations of European Bats (EUROBATS)
Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA)
The Himalayan Mutt Project thanks bat ecologist, Basant Sharma, for sharing his photos and insights into the secretive and spectacular world of bats in Nepal. To learn more about bats of Nepal and to join Basant and his team in their quest to discover and protect Nepal's bats, visit Nepal Bat Research and Conservation Union (NeBRCU).
Top: A pair of juvenile greater short-nosed fruit bats (Cynopterus spinx). There are four species of fruit bats in Nepal. This species is often found roosting under the foliage of fruit trees.
Center: Basant Sharma with a juvenile Cynopterus spinx.
Bottom: Rhinolophua luctus is an insectivorous, cave-dwelling bat that can sometimes be found in tree cavities, abandoned houses, and temples in Nepal.