Except at Halloween, when they appeal to our sense of the ghoulish, it’s never easy to get people to care about bats. Yes, they are mammals. Yes, in the case of fruit bats, they are cute, warm-eyed mammals at that, the sort of thing that makes seals, pandas, tigers, elephants, and other “charismatic megafauna” the poster children of conservation fund-raising campaigns.
But bats are decidedly not in this category. You might just persuade people that they aren’t the bloodsucking monsters of their nightmares by reminding them that only three of the 1,250 bat species in the world are vampire bats. (Even those three mostly lick blood from open wounds, rather than sucking blood, Dracula style.) But then the story really turns ugly, because bats, and particularly fruit bats, are also the most common source of new and terrifying diseases, including SARS, Nipah and Hendra viruses, Marburg and Lassa hemorrhagic fevers, and Ebola, which turned up this week in New York City.
Epidemics of emerging disease have a way of fostering rumors and hysterical overreaction. Much as in the Middle Ages, when cats went on trial for witchcraft, wildlife often serves as a handy scapegoat. During a 2012 outbreak in Uganda, for instance, the minister of tourism, of all people, announced a plan to cull wild animals in national parks.
“We shall eliminate animals Read the rest of this entry »