- Is there any scientific basis to the theory that the novel coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) may have its origin in bats?
Bats do share some genomic similarities with SARS-COV-2 but it’s highly unlikely that bats can transfers SARS-COV-2 independently without the aid of any intermediary species. Pangolin is believe to be that intermediary species. However, we do not say anything for sure, how they interact which resulted in transmission of SARS-COV-2
- Why are bats a reservoir for viruses? And how do they protect themselves from these pathogens?
Bats are reservoir of viruses just as any other animal species. In fact, there are other animals that carry more viruses than bats like migratory birds, rodents and pigs.
Bats have unique body physiology. They raise their body temperature as a flight mechanism, which can result in damage of virus particle (genome), that no longer remain viable to infect bats themselves.
Additional, there are evidences that bats have evolutionary relationship with viruse that reside in it. Which means that these virus evolved within bats, hence, infective for bats themselves.
A recent study shows that bats can develop an anti-inflammatory stage which prevent them form these viruses, which is actually quite amazing because it gives clues for human line of treatment against similar viral diseases
- As a bat expert, what is your reaction to the vilification of bats in the wake of COVID-19?
It is totally unjustified to vilify nature’s most mysterious and beneficial wildlife species. COVID-19 is spreading through human to human transmission. This mass hysteria of blaming bats has no justification and scientific proof to support. I feel there is need for more awareness for public and authorities, to appreciate how important bats are, for sustainable ecosystem and world economy.
- In many cities across the world, residents have called in experts to remove bats from their roosts in buildings. Is this panic reaction warranted?
It is highly painful as a bat researcher to see, how people are reacting to their friendliest bats neighbors. It is important to understand that bats do harbor zoonotic viruses but these viruses will not inflict harm to people until people start disturbing and poking them and continue degrading their habitats.
- Should cultures that have traditionally eaten bats stop the practice now?
We have reports that many countries have secret wildlife bush meat markets like in China and some African countries where people trade bats for eating purposes. There is still lot need to be done to change people behavior and abolish bat meat eating culture and traditions around many regions of world.
- What are the pressing threats that most of the 1,400 bat species worldwide face these days?
Habitat destruction is the most serious threat for most of the bats species worldwide. Land use for agriculture and humans settlement have significantly reduced bats habitat across world. In addition, climate change induced global warming has further aggravated living conditions for bats particularly in South Asia. Pteropus medius is a local bats species in Indian subcontinent which is continuously under threat from harsh summer temperature.
- Will the COVID-19 pandemic hurt global bat conservation efforts?
We believe COVID-19 pandemic will not hurt global bat conservation efforts. In fact it will support our cause for wildlife especially bats conservation. One Health Approach is gaining momentum after COVID-19 pandemic, which appreciate human health is related with wellbeing of animals and environment health.
Dr. Touseef Ahmed is a PhD Scholar in Kingston Lab at Texas Tech University, USA. He is working on bats borne zoonotic diseases ecology and epidemiology in Pakistan. He is a founder of non-profit platform DEPAK.ORG, which is created for enhancing wildlife conservation and zoonosis through effective engagement. He is also representing Pakistan in Global Union for Bats Diversity Network GBatNet