Touseef Ahmed

Nipah Virus Alert: Heightened Risks and Precautionary Measures in Pakistan

In the wake of recent concerns regarding the Nipah virus, health authorities in Pakistan have issued a nationwide alert, urging citizens to take necessary precautions. The alert comes after reports of Nipah virus outbreaks in neighboring countries, raising fears of a possible spread into Pakistan..

Nipah virus is a highly contagious and often fatal zoonotic pathogen that can be transmitted from animals to humans, primarily through bats (Pteropus medius, commonly known as Indian flying foxes) and pigs. The virus can cause severe respiratory and neurological symptoms, posing a significant public health risk. While human-to-human transmission is rare, the mortality rate in infected individuals is alarmingly high, making early detection and prevention crucial.

Indian flying foxes Under the Spotlight

Indian flying foxes are reservoir of Nipah virus have come under increased scrutiny. These nocturnal creatures are essential for ecosystems as they pollinate plants, and disperse seeds. However, their potential to harbor and transmit diseases to humans has raised concerns globally.

Pakistan, home to diverse bat species including Indian flying foxes, has intensified its monitoring efforts to track any signs of the virus in these bat populations. Researchers and wildlife experts are collaborating with health officials to understand the transmission patterns and mitigate the risks associated with these flying mammals.

Precautionary Measures

Do Not Consume Raw Date Palm Sap and Discarded Half-Eaten Fruits by Animals:  In light of the alarming Nipah virus transmission through contaminated date palm sap (In Urdu, RUS) in neighboring Bangladesh and India, concerns are escalating in Pakistan’s date-producing regions, notably Sindh and Punjab provinces.

Nipah virus, an emerging zoonotic disease causing fatal encephalitis | RCP Journals

Mode of transmission of Nipah Virus CC by Alam, Ali M. “Nipah virus, an emerging zoonotic disease causing fatal encephalitis.” Clinical Medicine 22.4 (2022): 348.

The potential for a similar mode of transmission necessitates immediate action. It is imperative that people in these areas refrain from consuming raw date palm sap and be aware of the risks associated with this practice.

Boiling the sap before consumption can significantly reduce the transmission risk and should be diligently practiced.

Using bamboo skirts to cover date palm sap receptacles has helped prevent the spillover of Nipah virus to humans.

Similarly, use of bamboo skirts prevent bats from drinking and urinating in the receptacles, thereby, reduces the exposure to Nipah virus.

Raw Date Palm Sap Harvesting

Raw Date Palm Sap Harvesting

Additionally, a concerning factor is the presence of half-eaten fruits in orchards and public parks, where Indian flying foxes, known carriers of the virus, frequently roam and roosts. These discarded fruits could serve as potential sources of infection. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that the government ensures daily cleaning and sanitization of these areas to eliminate potential risks.

To enhance public awareness and safety, the installation of precautionary boards in these public spaces is crucial. These boards, displaying vital information in both Urdu and English, can educate visitors about the dangers associated with eating fruit from the ground.

Taking proactive measures, such as thorough cleaning of fruits and implementing educational initiatives, is pivotal in preventing the spread of the Nipah virus in Pakistan. By promoting awareness and ensuring the implementation of proper hygiene practices, the nation can safeguard its citizens and curb the potential threat posed by this deadly virus.

Avoid Direct Contact: By refraining from handling or touching Indian flying foxes, individuals not only protect themselves from potential infection but also contribute to the broader goal of disease prevention at the crossroads of animal and human well-being.

Practice Good Hygiene: Wash hands frequently with soap and water, and avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness.

Bamboo skirt method to block fruit bats contamination date palm sap.

Bamboo skirt method to block fruit bats contamination date palm sap. CC by Islam, SM Rashed Ul, and Munira Jahan. “Kampung Sungai to Kerala: A deadly zoonotic trail encroaching diverse geography.” Science 9.2 (2021): 43-48.

Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Individuals working closely with bats, particularly Indian flying foxes, are advised to wear appropriate PPE to minimize the risk of exposure.

Seek Medical Attention: If anyone exhibits symptoms such as fever, headache, dizziness, or respiratory issues, it is imperative to seek medical attention promptly.

Stay Informed, Stay Safe

As the nation remains on high alert, it is essential for citizens to stay informed through credible sources and follow the recommended guidelines. By remaining vigilant and taking necessary precautions, Pakistanis can contribute significantly to mitigating the potential threat of Nipah virus and ensuring the safety and well-being of their communities.

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Indian flying fox Thermoregulatory behaviors: Visual Guide

Explore our Indian flying foxes (Pteropus medius) thermoregulatory behavior guide.

Pteropus medius are often vulnerable to high temperatures as they have exposed open roosting structures and are devoid of sweat glands, contributing toward their lower thermal tolerance than similar size mammals. Thermal or thermodynamic tolerance is an animal’s ability to balance thermogenesis and heat dissipation under ambient temperatures that exceed the thermoneutral zone. As a result, Pteropus have adopted various thermoregulatory behaviors and strategies, such as increasing the exposed surface area of their wings or enhancing evaporative cooling by salivation. The intensity, frequency and duration of the thermoregulatory behaviors increases in a sequential manner, starting with wing fanning to induce forced convection, followed by clumping and clustering to reduce exposure to solar radiation exposure, lastly, salivation (wrist licking), belly soaking and panting to induce evaporative cooling.

These flying foxes eventually collapse due to hyperthermia when ambient temperatures exceed 43°C. In hotter season, Indian flying foxes spend less time sleeping and resting because they engage in more thermoregulation. This sleep deprivation is known to negatively affect cognitive responses, physiological traits, and overall alertness. Ultimately, continued exposure to extreme heat results in early deaths.

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Project Completion

Project Tittle

Effect of Extreme Heat on Indian flying foxes (Pteropus medius) and their role in AMR Spillover in Pakistan

The project “Effect of Extreme Heat on Indian Flying Foxes and their potential role in Antimicrobial Spillover” is completed on 13th August 2021. During this summer project which lasted for 78 days, from 24th May 2021 to 13 August 2021, we worked hard to find how extreme heat is impacting Indian flying foxes in Pakistan and more generally in its entire geographical niche. Here are our objectives:

We aimed to find temperature threshold for the first time, that results in heat stress related deaths of flying foxes in Indian Subcontinent.

Documenting various Heat Stress Behaviors in Indian Flying foxes.

Role of landscape variables in Heat Stress for flying foxes.

Cortisol variation in relation with heat stress

Relationship of Bacterial shedding in feces with Heat Stress

AMR Spillover in relation with heat stress

Cross Sectional Survey to Identify Historic Die offs, Dietary Ecology and Bat Human Conflict.

This project study rooting sites are located in eight different areas, across two provinces and capital territory of Pakistan. Details about the study areas are as following:

G-11 Sector Islamabad, Capital Territory of Pakistan

Bagh-e-Jinnah, Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan

Changa Manga, Kasur, Punjab, Pakistan

Head Dhumakee, Mailse, Vehari, Punjab, Pakistan

Sailanwali, Sargodha, Punjab, Pakistan

Khanpur Dam, Haripur, KPK, Pakistan

Hattar Road, Haripur, KPK, Pakistan

Gari Habibullah, Manshera, KPK, Pakistan

This Project research fieldwork is made possible with our team of graduate and undergraduate students from various higher education institutions of Pakistan. Here is the detail about these amazing fieldwork and lab work assistants along with their institutional affiliation.

Adeel Kazam (Mphil) University of Punjab, Lahore)

Mamoona Arshad (DVM) College of Veterinary & Animal Sciences – CVAS Jhang)

Mudassar Hussain (Mphil) University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore)

Wajahat Ali (Mphil) (University of Haripur)

Shamran Ullah (BS) (University of Haripur)

Abdul Ali (DVM), University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore)

Muhammad Nauman Faisal (Mphil) University of Punjab, Lahore)

Ahmed Bilal (Mphil) (University of Punjab, Lahore)

Yashua Sohial (Mphil) University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore

Muhammad Armaghan Shahzad (DVM, MS) COMSATS University, Islamabad

Ayesha Javid (Mphil) University of Agriculture, Faisalabad

Fieldwork is designed to provide the student with an opportunity for a practical, “real world” experience for the purpose of developing direct leadership, programming, and administrative skills sufficient for entry into a professional career. These students were trained in basic research methodologies needed for this project including

Data Collection, Data Entry, Data Management

Fecal Sample Collection, Fecal Sample Shipment

Video Scan Sampling

Landscape Data Recording

Cross-Sectional Survey through Structured Questionnaire

Results of the project will be shared in publications.

Please feel free to reach out to the Principal Investigator of this Project at [email protected] for any additional information about the project.

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Over 400 Indian Flying Foxes were killed in Nawab Shah, Sindh, Pakistan.

These bats were believed to be a serious pest for fruits trees of Mango and Banana in Sindh Province of Pakistan. This is not surprising, as orchards represent a concentrated and accessible source of food for flying-foxes, rendered more attractive as a large proportion of their native food trees have been cleared.

The ‘killing’ approach to crop protection has a long history, but know considered as inhumane, expensive and ineffective measure and that the problems were exaggerated when mass shooting of these fruits bats were practiced. This mass killing of flying foxes has serious wildlife conservation implications.

As indicated by endemic Mauritian flying fox Pteropus niger which was perceived to be a major fruit pest. Lobbying of the Government of Mauritius by fruit growers to control the flying fox population resulted in national culls in 2015 and 2016. A loss of c. 38,318 individuals has been reported and the species is now categorized as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

We urge Pakistan government to Stop this inhumane killing of flying foxes and adopt following measures to protect fruits crops and bats, which play vital role in their growth of your fruits crops, for which people are killing them.

Netting of fruit tree is successful in reducing the damage caused by bats. To avoid entangling of bats and fruit damage through the net, it is advised to make the net as conspicuous as possible against the tree. Use of white rather than black nets is recommended.

Installing light bulbs on every tree to illuminate the area and make it less attractive to the bats.

Using plastic flags placed above the tree canopy.

Firecrackers and shotguns to frighten the bats.

Pruning trees could minimize the impact bats have on fruit crops.

Planting native non commercial trees such as figs or mulberries on the boundary of orchard, will reduce the impact of damage by fruit bats.

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EARTHDAY.ORG and Batcon Pakistan Join Hands

Earthday and Batcon Pakistan join hands for Biodiversity Conservation and Restoration in Pakistan

EARTHDAY.ORG and Batcon Pakistan Join hand to achieve a shared goal of Biodiversity Conservation and Restoration of Natural Habitat and Conditions for Wildlife in Pakistan. EARTHDAY.ORG’s mission is to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide. Growing out of the first Earth Day in 1970, EARTHDAY.ORG is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 75,000 partners in over 190 countries to drive positive action for our planet.

The Conservation and Biodiversity program will amplify and accelerates transformative societal change to restore and protect biodiversity. This program educates and raises awareness about the accelerating rate of extinction of millions of species and the causes and consequences of this phenomenon. The program is dedicated for the enduring protection of wildlife and their habitats and creating a world in which wildlife and humans successfully coexist through effective engagement.

During the next five years Batcon Pakistan and EARTHDAY.ORG will work together in Pakistan to respond rapidly and effectively to bat conservation crises, preventing the extinction and extirpation of threatened bats as well as adopt proactive approach for curbing bat’s born zoonotic disease spillover event through effective engagement at each level. We will educate key communities and the public at large on the importance of wildlife, especially bats.

Bats are an ecologically and taxonomically diverse group accounting for roughly a fifth of mammalian diversity worldwide. Many of the threats bats face (e.g., habitat loss, bushmeat hunting, and climate change) reflect the conservation challenges of our era. However, compared to other mammals and birds, significantly less is known about the population status of most bat species, which makes prioritizing and planning conservation actions challenging.

 Over a third of bat species assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are considered threatened or data deficient, and well over half of the species have unknown or decreasing population trends. That equals 988 species, or 80% of bats assessed by IUCN, needing conservation or research attention. Delivering conservation to bat species will require sustained efforts to assess population status and trends and address data deficiencies. Successful bat conservation must integrate research and conservation to identify stressors and their solutions and to test the efficacy of actions to stabilize or increase populations. Global and regional networks that connect researchers, conservation practitioners, and local stakeholders to share knowledge, build capacity, and prioritize and coordinate research and conservation efforts, are vital to ensuring sustainable bat populations worldwide.

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A New Research Project Will Explore How Extreme Heat Events Impact Indian Flying Foxes in Pakistan

Bat Conservation Pakistan is going to conduct a research on Indian flying foxes in Pakistan. This one year project aims to explore how extreme heat events are impacting Indian flying foxes (Pteropus medius) in Pakistan. This project will help in determining temperature thresholds that precipitate heat stress in Indian flying foxes (Pteropus medius) at the roost level. This project will explore how the presence and distance of different landscape variables influences heat stress.

We will also see how weather patterns impact the thermoregulatory behaviours of Indian flying foxes. At the end, Habitat Suitability Models for other roosting sites will be generated by using these studied variables. Lastly, we will conduct interviews of the local population to identify historic die offs and dietary ecology of Indian flying foxes in Pakistan.

There is a well-established relationship between climate change and the intensity and frequency of extreme heat events. It creates wildlife conservation challenges, especially for flying foxes, large fruit-eating bats in the genus Pteropus and related genera, due to their open-roosting behaviour and lower thermodynamic tolerance. Extreme heat events had resulted in mass die offs of flying foxes in many parts of the world. Notably, a heat wave on January 04, 2014 claimed 45,500 flying-foxes’ lives when the temperature passed a threshold of 42℃ in Australia.

Indian flying foxes. Photo Source: RJ Shilx

The Indian flying fox (Pteropus medius) population is declining throughout its geographic range. Moreover, extreme heat events and local extinction of flying foxes in the southern region of Pakistan seem to be related. Pakistan is the fifth-most severely affected country by climate change worldwide, with over 150 extreme weather events in the last decade. These extreme heat events have claimed the lives of hundreds of people and domestic animals, and they are expected to increase and become widespread in the central and northern region of Pakistan. Therefore, predicting potential places and times of elevated risk of heat-related die-offs for wildlife, especially flying foxes, is of great conservation value, by allowing timely mitigation plans in Pakistan.

Heat stressed bats exhibit a series of thermoregulatory behaviours (wing fanning, belly soaking, clustering, clumping, wrist licking) that bats use to mitigate the negative effects of heat through evaporative cooling. The onset and duration of these behaviours provide measures of physiological stress, which can modulate their fertility, metabolism, and immune function. We will record thermoregulatory behaviours and characterize flying foxes heat stress intensity using standardized scoring system.

Understanding the effect of landscape variables, weather patterns and availability of nutritional resources that might buffer the effects of extreme heat events on flying-foxes’ thermoregulation has the potential to inform timely mitigation strategies in both the short and long term. We will generate habitat suitability and heat stress models for other Pteropus medius roost sites by using these study variables.

Indian flying foxes enjoying native fruits near Sargodha, Punjab, Pakistan. Photo Source: RJ Shilx

Flying foxes can also be studied as a good bioindicator of heat stress for other wildlife that is more cryptic or occurs in smaller numbers, due to their lower thermodynamic tolerance and a well-defined thermoregulatory behavior. The generated database will provide one of the first and long-term roosts temperatures and thermoregulatory behaviour data which can be used for short- or long-term conservation action on identified heat stressed, vulnerable roosts in Pakistan.

Principle Investigator: Dr. Touseef Ahmed is a Ph.D. Scholar in Kingston Lab at Texas Tech University, USA. He is currently working on Extreme Heat Event-related bats’ die-offs and developing bats habitat suitability models to predict zoonotic disease spillovers in Pakistan. He is looking at bats’ population dynamics and community ecology. His interests lie at the nexus of conservation biology, disturbance ecology, disease ecology, and wildlife-human interactions. He has a keen interest in applying principles of disease ecology to understand how human disturbance can promote vulnerability to pathogen transmission between hosts and potential spillover events into other wildlife, livestock, and humans. His long-term goal is to understand how human manipulation of the environment can have detrimental effects on wildlife health and the prevalence and dynamics of zoonotic diseases in wildlife species.

Team Descriptions

  1. Dr. Tigga Kingston – She is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Texas Tech University, USA. She is also Co-Chair of the IUCN Bat Specialist Group and Global Union of Bat Diversity Networks (GBatNet).
  2. Dr. Arshad Javid–He is an Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Wildlife and Fishery, University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Pakistan. His research work focuses on Chiropteran biodiversity in tropical and arid-subtropical regions of Pakistan.
  3. Dr. Muhammad Naeem Awan – He is a well published ecologist and conservationist, currently working as a country coordinator of Earth Day Network, Pakistan.
  4. Dr Sajida Noureen–She is an Assistant Professor in Department of Forestry and Wildlife Management, University of Haripur, Pakistan. She worked on different aspects of bats, including bat ecological studies, bat reproduction and roosting habitat.
  5. Dr. Ubaid ur Rahman Zia–He is a Lecturer in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Pakistan. He is an infectious disease epidemiologist.
  6. Maria Shaukat–She is an Assistant Scientific Officer at Biological Production Division of National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad. She is working at rabies vaccine production lab of NIH.
  7. Dr. Furrukh Bashir – He is a scientific officer in Research and Development Division of the Pakistan Meteorological Department. His area of research work is climate change induced extreme heat events and their impacts on humans and biodiversity.
  8. Dr.Muhammad Farooq Tahir – He is working as Technical Adviser One Health for Health Security Partners, Washington DC, USA. He is actively involve in giving his inputs for Public Health Policy in Pakistan

Find More About This Project

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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on Bats and COVID-19

  • 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.

About Author

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

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South Asian Scientists and Conservationists Bust Myths About Bats and COVID-19

The world is currently battling a pandemic of unprecedented proportions and bats have been prematurely implicated as the source of COVID-19. Recent social media posts and unverified opinions about bats have led to widespread antipathy and fear in the general public. Incidents of the public requesting for removal of bats, destroying bat roosts, bursting crackers or smoking them out and sealing crevices where bats and their pups roost has increased in the last month both in urban and rural areas in India [1,2]. In this challenging time, we, as people involved in bat conservation at different capacities, would like to clarify that bats do not pose a direct human health hazard. On the contrary, we highlight the role of bats in improving the ecosystem, economy and human health. The following points are listed out in this summary and are elaborated.

  1. The exact origin of SARS-CoV-2 or its precursor is not known. It is premature and unfair to blame bats or any other animal for the pandemic.
  2. Scientists strongly suggest that it is  highly unlikely  for SARS-like viruses to jump directly from bats to humans.  Also, there is no evidence of humans contracting coronavirus or any such viruses through the excreta of bats . 
  3. The recent report from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on the discovery of bat coronaviruses (BtCoV) in two species of South Asian bats poses no known health hazard. The viruses found in the study are different from  SARS-CoV-2 and cannot cause COVID-19.
  4. Information on the current, and past zoonotic disease outbreaks suggest that global wildlife trade and/or large-scale industrial livestock farming play an important role in such events. Killing bats and other wild animals, or evicting them from their roosts in retaliation is counterproductive and will not solve any  problems.
  5. Bats perform vital ecosystem services. They pollinate the flowers of some mangroves, and many other commercially and culturally important plants. Insect-eating bats are voracious eaters of pest insects in rice, corn, cotton and potentially, tea farms.Therefore, bats benefit ecological and human health, and provide intangible economic benefits. 
  6. The society currently needs more awareness about the bats around them in addition to epidemiological facts for a healthy coexistence.  We therefore, request media houses and the press to consider possible negative impacts of their statements on bats and other animals before releasing them. 
  7. Lastly, we urge the governments of South Asian countries to strengthen the legal framework to protect bats in view of their ecosystem services and their slow breeding capacity. 

On the origin and transmission of SARS-CoV-2

The actual origin of SARS-CoV-2 is highly debated among scientists. SARS-CoV-2 appears to be similar to another coronavirus RaTG13 found in a species of bat called the Intermediate Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus affinis) [3]. However, a recent study has shown that RaTG13 and SARS-CoV-2 diverged 40-70 years ago from each other (a long timespan for the evolution of viruses) and hence the direct transmission of SARS-CoV-2 or its precursor from bats to humans is improbable [4,5]. Moreover, the surface proteins of all SARS-like viruses found in bats cannot bind efficiently to the corresponding receptors of the human lung epithelium which makes direct transmission even more unlikely [4]. 

It is also highly improbable that the faeces of bats pose an immediate health risk to humans and, none of the previous zoonotic disease outbreaks, globally, show any evidence that they were caused due to contact with bat faeces [6,7,8]. However, fungal infections (for eg. Histoplasmosis) may arise from unprotected contact with the faeces of any wild animal, so following basic hygiene rules is advised.

Coronaviruses in two species of Indian bats

None of the South Asian bats are proven to be natural reservoirs of SARS-CoV-2. Recently, a study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) found bat coronaviruses (BtCoV) in the common Indian Flying Fox (Pteropus medius a.k.a giganteus) and Fulvous Fruit Bat (Rousettus leschenaultii) [9]. However, less than 5% of the screened samples contained this BtCoV and, as the study mentions, it is very distantly-related to SARS-CoV-2 and hence cannot cause COVID-19.

Relationship between bats and zoonotic disease outbreaks

The real drivers of zoonotic disease outbreaks are predominantly man-made and many animals are carriers of viruses which could potentially spillover to humans. However, in recent times only bats are unfortunately in focus for being reservoirs of viruses. Like any other animal, bats are also reservoirs of many zoonotic viruses. However, being reservoirs does not mean that they spread diseases to humans. In reality, there is very little scientific evidence to prove bats have directly transmitted viruses to humans or caused outbreaks. The only known exception was the Nipah (NiV) outbreak in Bangladesh which was caused through indirect contact between bats and humans. As the cause of the outbreak was identified, it became easy to control and prevent subsequent outbreaks through basic precautionary and mitigation measures [7,10]. Habitat fragmentation, global wildlife trade and wet markets, large-scale industrial farming of wild and domestic animals have synergistic effects in bringing animals in close contact in unsanitary or stressful conditions—ideal conditions for the transmission and evolution of novel zoonotic viruses [11]. Hence, during such outbreaks there is no reason to single out or villainise only bats – whose benefits far outweigh  the perceived negativity associated with them. . 

Bats are beneficial for humans and the ecosystem 

Bats perform vital ecosystem services all over the world. Fruit bats help pollinate globally important cash crops like durian [12] and agave (the plant that produces tequila) [13]. In South Asia, the culturally-significant tree Mahua (Madhuca longifolia) appears to be predominantly bat-pollinated [14]. In Nepal, Chiuri (Diploknema butyracea), a multipurpose tree for the rural populace is pollinated by bats [15]. Small fruit bats also pollinate the flowers of mangroves, which is an extremely productive ecosystem and also a natural barrier to coastal erosion and sea surges, thereby forming our first line of defence to natural disasters. Insectivorous bats, on the other hand, voraciously eat pest insects that cause economic losses in rice plantations [16] and also eat mosquitoes. For instance, bats are estimated to save ~800 million USD for cocoa farmers in Indonesia [17] and ~22 billion dollars (annually) for corn farmers in the United States [18] through pest control. The importance of bats as seed dispersers, pollinators and pest controllers, particularly in the region’s important cash crops (like tea) is beginning to be unravelled. Epidemiologically, the unique immune system of bats could provide clues on handling viruses, therefore they should be seen as a solution to disease outbreaks, rather than the problem.  

Concluding remarks

In view of the above points, we firmly believe that the mass hysteria against bats is unfair and uncalled for. The current pandemic is an outcome of the ongoing ecological destruction, increasing intensification of livestock farming and wildlife trade. We urge people not to believe in news from unverified sources and cause harm to bats in retaliation. Likewise, we request the media to not oversimplify scientific evidence, to emphasise the role of humans in disease outbreaks and to highlight the importance of coexistence with bats in urban landscapes. Bats have been living around us for centuries and we have been disease free wherever bats have been left to their business. Oversimplified or unverified information from the press not only creates unnecessary fear among the public but also pushes decades of conservation efforts backwards which is far more destructive for the ecosystem.. In India, only two species (out of 128) are protected by law, while many other species are more endangered or lack scientific information [19]. In Nepal, too, all species are unprotected, including two species from the National Red List [20] and the same is true for Pakistan. We urge the governments of these countries to reconsider and reinforce the laws governing bat conservation. 


*Email IDs are provided for those who have agreed to be contacted by the media

  1. Touseef Ahmed, PhD Student , Teaching Assistant, Department of Biological Sciences Texas Tech University
  2. Rohit Chakravarty, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, Germany <[email protected]>
  3. Baheerathan Murugavel, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Thiruvananthapuram (IISER TVM), India <[email protected]>  
  • Dr. Seshadri K S, Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT), India <[email protected]>
  • Vidisha Kulkarni, Jain University and GubbiLabs, Bangalore, India
  • Rajesh Puttaswamaiah, Citizen Scientist & Trustee, Bat Conservation India Trust, Bangalore, India <[email protected]>
  • Dr. Vadamalai Elangovan, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India <[email protected]>
  • Shriranjani Iyer,Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON), Anaikatty, Coimbatore, India <[email protected]>  
  • Aditya Srinivasulu, Biodiversity Research and Conservation Society, Hyderabad, India. <[email protected]>
  • Dr. Pushpa Raj Acharya, Central Campus of Science and Technology, Mid-Western University, Birendranagar, Surkhet, Nepal <[email protected]>
  • Basanta Sharma, Nepal Bats Research and Conservation Union (NeBRCU), Pokhara, Nepal. <[email protected]>
  • Dr. T.Ganesh, Senior Fellow, Ashoka Trust for research in Ecology and the Environment(ATREE), Bangalore, India
  • Sanjeev Baniya, Nepal Bat Research and Conservation Union (NeBRCU), Pokhara, Nepal. <[email protected]>
  • Dr. A. Rathinakumar, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, India <[email protected]>
  1. Dr. Chetan HC, Assistant Professor, The University of Transdisciplinary Health Sciences and Technology, Centre for Conservation of Natural resources, Bengaluru, India <[email protected]>
  1. Dr. R. Ganesan, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore, India  
  2. Rohit Chouhan, Wildlife Research Fellow, Department of Wildlife Science, University of  Kota, Kota, Rajasthan, India. <[email protected]>
  3. Kaushik N, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, India <[email protected]>
  1. Dr. Sumit Dookia, Assistant Professor, University School of Environment Management, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi, India <[email protected]>
  1. Aishanya Sarma, Conservation Initiatives, Assam, India <[email protected]>
  • Kasturi Saha, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, India <[email protected]>
  • Ram Mohan, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Pune (IISER Pune), India <[email protected]>
  • Tariq Ahmed Shah, Wildlife Biology & Taxonomy Lab, Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. <[email protected]>
  • Devna Arora, Rehabber’s Den, Pune, India <[email protected]>
  • Harish Prakash, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, India <[email protected]>
  • Dr. Parvathy Venugopal, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, United Kingdom. <[email protected]>
  • Rajlakshmi Mishra, University School of Environmental Management, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi, India <[email protected]>
  • Rahul Prabhukhanolkar, Mhadei Research Center, Belagavi and Indian Bat Conservation Research Unit, India <[email protected]>
  • A. Karthikeyan, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, India. <[email protected]>
  • Prof. Hema Somanathan, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Thiruvananthapuram (IISER-TVM), India <[email protected]>
  • Prof. G. Marimuthu, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, India
  • Dr. Utttam Saikia, Zoological Survey of India, Shillong, India <[email protected]>
  • Dr. H. Raghuram, PG and Research Department of Zoology, The American College, Madurai 625 002, Tamil Nadu, India <[email protected]>
  • Tharaka Kusuminda, Department of Agricultural Biology, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ruhuna, Kamburupitiya, Sri Lanka. <[email protected]>
  • Jayanthi Kallam,  Founder and Executive Director, Avian and Reptile Rehabilitation Trust, Bangalore, India <[email protected]>
  • Prof. Sripathi Kandula, Madurai Kamaraj University / Chettinad Academy of Research and Education, Chennai, India <[email protected]>
  • Dr. Amani Mannakkara,  Department of Agricultural Biology, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ruhuna, Kamburupitiya, Sri Lanka. <[email protected]>
  • Ravi Umadi, Department of Biologie II, Biocenter, Ludwig-Maximillians Universitaet, Munich, Germany <[email protected]>
  • Sargam Singh Rasaily IFS, APCCF/Member Secretary, Uttarakhand Biodiversity Board, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India <[email protected]>
  • R.M.T. Priyanwada Rathnayake, Master of Environment Management , Faculty of Graduate Studies , University of Colombo, Sri Lanka <[email protected]>
  • Sangay Tshering, College of Natural Resources, Royal University of Bhutan, Punakha, Bhutan. <[email protected]>
  • Dr. D. Paramanantha Swami Doss, Assistant Professor, St. John’s College, Palayamkottai, Tamil Nadu, India <[email protected]>
  • Dr. Venkatesh Nagarajan Radha, Postdoc Associate, University of Sydney, Australia. <[email protected]>
  • Dr. Chelmala Srinivasulu, Department of Zoology, Osmania University, Hyderabad, Telangana State, India <[email protected]>
  • Dr. Bhargavi Srinivasulu, Department of Zoology, Osmania University, Hyderabad, Telangana State, India  
  • Dr. S. Baskaran, Assistant Professor, Department of Biotechnology, The Madura College, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India <[email protected]>
  • Chamara Amarasinghe, Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. <[email protected]>
  • Pratik Das, XVI M.Sc., Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, India.  
  • Dr. Touseef Ahmed, Department of Biological Sciences, Texas Tech University, Texas, USA. <[email protected]>
  • Dr. T. Karuppudurai, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, India. <[email protected]>
  • Steffi Christiane R, Department  of Animal Behaviour & Physiology, School of Biological Sciences, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, India. <[email protected]>
  • Dr. Manjari Jain, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali (IISER-M), India <[email protected]>
  • Suranjan Karunarathna, Nature Exploration and Education Team, Colombo, Sri Lanka <[email protected]>
  • Dr. Sanjay Molur, Co-chair, Chiroptera Conservation & Information Network of South Asia (CCINSA), Zoo Outreach Organization, Coimbatore, India. <[email protected]>
  • Dr. Kranti Yardi, Professor, Bharati Vidyapeeth Institute of Environment Education and Research,  Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed to be University, Pune <[email protected]>
  • Aita Hang Subba, Guest faculty, Department of Zoology, Sikkim University, Gangtok, India <[email protected]>
  • M. Mathivanan, Senior Research Associate, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Agasthyamalai Community Conservation Centre (ACCC), Manimutharu, Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, India <[email protected]>
  • Tijo K Joy, UNDP Cluster Coordinator- Conservation & Ecology HTML Project, Munnar, Kerala, India.
  • Dr. K. Emmanuvel Rajan, Department of Animal Science, School of Life Sciences, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirappalli-620024, Tamil Nadu, India <[email protected]>
  • Shasank Ongole, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, Karnataka
  • Soham Mukherjee, Herpetologist & Wildlife Biologist, NAJA India, Ahmedabad (Gujarat), India <[email protected]>
  • Kadambari Deshpande, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore, India
  • Thejasvi Beleyur, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen, Germany <[email protected]>
  • Dr Md Nurul Islam, FETPV Technical Officer, Global Health Development (GHD), Bangladesh <[email protected]>

Note: The views of the signatories are personal and may not reflect those of their institutions.


  1. “Bats are Bengaluru’s enemy no 1 now”, news article in Bangalore Mirror on 20th April 2020.
  2. “Myths of bats spreadinng Coronavirus: Two trees chopped off in city”, news report in Star of Mysore on  3rd April 2020.
  3. Zhou, P., Yang, X., Wang, X. et al. (2020). A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat origin. Nature 579, 270–273 (2020).
  4. Andersen, K.G., Rambaut, A., Lipkin, W.I. et al. (2020) The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2. Nat Med 26, 450–452.
  5. Boni, M.F., Lemey, P., Jiang, X. et al. (2020). Evolutionary origins of the SARSCoV-2 sarbecovirus lineage responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Preprint on
  6. World Health Organization Fact Sheet on Ebola:
  7. World Health Organization Fact Sheet on Nipah virus:
  8. World Health Organization Fact Sheet on Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome:
  9. Yadav, P.D, Shete-Aich, A., Nyayanit, D.A., et al. (2020). Detection of coronaviruses in Pteropus and Rousettus species of bats from different states of India. Indian Journal of Medical Research  
  10. Dhillon, J., Banerjee, A. (2015) Controlling Nipah virus encephalitis in Bangladesh: Policy options. J Public Health Pol 36, 270–282.  
  1. Jones, B.A, Grace, D., Kock, R. et al. (2013). Zoonosis emergence linked to agricultural intensification and environmental change. PNAS 110 (21), 8399-8404.
  2. Aziz, SA, Clements, GR, McConkey, KR, et al. (2017) Pollination by the locally endangered island flying fox (Pteropus hypomelanus) enhances fruit production of the economically important durian (Durio zibethinus). Ecol Evol.; 7: 8670– 8684.  
  3. Trejo-Salazar, R.E,  Eguiarte, L.E, Suro-Piñera, D. and Medellin, R.A. (2016) Save Our Bats, Save Our Tequila: Industry and Science Join Forces to Help Bats and Agaves Natural Areas Journal 36(4), 523-530.  
  4. Nathan, P.T., Karupuddurai, T., Raghuram, H. and Marimuthu, G. (2009). Bat foraging strategies and pollination of Madhuca longifolia (Sapotaceae) in southern India. Acta Chiropterologica, 11(2): 435-441.
  5. Acharya, P.R. (2015). Chepang Chiuri and Chamera. Friends of Nature, Kathmandu.
  6. Wanger, T.C., Darras, K., Bumrungsri, S. et al. (2014). Bat pest control contributes to food security in Thailand. Biological Conservation, 171: 220-223.
  7. Maas, B., Clough, Y. and Tscharntke, T. (2013). Bats and birds increase crop yield in tropical agroforestry landscapes. Ecology Letters, 16: 1480-1487.
  8. Maine, J. and Boyles, J.G. (2015). Bats initiate vital agroecological interactions in corn. PNAS, 112(4): 12438-12443.
  9. Srinivasulu, C., Srinivasulu, A. and Srinivasulu. B. (2020). Checklist of the bats of South Asia (v1.1). [Date of publication: 13 April 2020].
  10. Jnawali, S.R., Baral, H.S., Acharya, K.P., Upadhyay, G.P. et al. (2011). The Status of Nepal Mammals: The National Red List Series, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Kathmandu, Nepal.  
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