Near a Manimuthar, a home for the ‘misunderstood’ bat

During an ATREE survey of bats in 50 temples in Tirunelveli district, nearly 80 per cent of the temples had bat colonies. Seven species of bats are found in the temples.
Near a Manimuthar, a home for the ‘misunderstood’ bat

TIRUNELVELI: To protect bats, the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), with the aid of Sundaram Mutual and Brakes India, has built a nestbox for the winged mammals near the Manimuthar Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.

The bat house was built with palmyra leaves on a trial basis. “The house cost nearly Rs 50,000 but can last for a decade. While it may take some time for the bats to recognise this as a new home, if the trial succeeds, we will construct more such houses across the district," M Mathivanan, Senior Research Associate of ATREE's Agasthyamalai Community Conservation Centre.

Explaining the reason for the project, Mathivanan said that bats are misunderstood as carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. “Many also consider bats as a bad omen and drive them away from their roost. But, without bats the insect population would boom, resulting in crop failure, economic distress and human illness," he said

He said that during an ATREE survey of bats in 50 temples in Tirunelveli district, nearly 80 per cent of the temples had bat colonies. Seven species of bats are found in the temples.

However, considering them as a bad omen, the public has cleared bat colonies out of a few temples. An abandoned theatre near the Thamirabarani river had housed more than 2,000 bats. Likewise, a mandapam amid Thamirabarani river near Thiruvengadam was filled with more than 300 Great False Vampire bats. However, during the Thamirabarani Maha Pushkaram, all the bats were chased away.

When the pandemic began, people here assumed that bats could spread COVID-19 and the public, in many villages, used disinfectants to chase them out of temples, he said.

"But, bats play an important role in maintaining a balance in the ecosystem. They aid farmers by removing insects that feed on crops especially in the months after the monsoon when insects are drawn to paddy fields,” he pointed out.

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