If there is an animal in the world in dire need of a PR campaign at the moment, it is the bat. Although the origin and cause of the Covid-19 outbreak has yet to be identified, from the outset, the public information sphere was rife with statements accusing bats of being the main culprits.
But scientific research has not found evidence that the virus behind Covid-19 actually stems from bats. There is also no evidence that coronavirus infections can jump directly from bats to humans. Even when bats are found near houses, villages and urban areas, it is rare for humans to catch a virus directly from them as transmission requires direct physical contact such as a bite, scratch or ingestion of bat bodily fluids. Bats carrying viruses in the wild, undisturbed by people, pose minimal threat to human health. Statistically speaking, humans have a higher chance of catching diseases from domestic animals such as cats and dogs.
In Malaysia, there is even less to be worried about as the virus has zero links to native fruit bats — this is based on recent data shared by conservation NGO Rimba, which in the months prior to the MCO was actively working on Project Pteropus, the nation’s only project focused on the ecology and conservation of flying foxes and other fruit bats. Outreach programmes to create awareness of the hugely important role this unassuming, nocturnal mammal holds in agriculture were quickly put on hold as rumours swirled of bats as a possible carrier of Covid-19, so Rimba president and co-founder Dr Sheema Abdul Aziz changed gears and moved to clear the air by clarifying what scientists were saying, and more importantly, adapting the information to a local context. Her lengthy and detailed FAQ is available for free on rimba.ngo.
Options met with Sheema and Rimba vice-president and co-founder Dr Gopalasamy Reuben Clements soon after a conservation roadmap for flying foxes was announced earlier this year — during the pre-MCO days when the luxury of face-to-face interaction was still firmly in our grasp. Produced in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia (Perhilitan), the conservation roadmap is the output of a regional project spearheaded by the Southeast Asian Bat Conservation Research Unit (SEABCRU) and funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
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