Wildlife & Biodiversity

Residents of this Odisha village are conserving bats despite COVID-19 stigma

They strongly believe that the winged mammals have nothing to do with the disease’s spread

 
By Ashis Senapati
Last Updated: Monday 04 May 2020
Bats roost in Kabatabandha village. Photo: Ashis Senapati
Bats roost in Kabatabandha village. Photo: Ashis Senapati Bats roost in Kabatabandha village. Photo: Ashis Senapati

Residents of Kabatabandha village in Odisha’s Jajpur district have continued to protect and conserve bats despite some theories tracing the origin of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to the winged mammals.

Kabatabandha, a riverside village under the Dharmasala block, became a resort for large-sized bats, thanks to the people who provided them feed and protection.

Hundreds of bats are seen clinging to the branches of two Ashoka and two banyan trees on the banks of the Baitarani river in Kabatabandha. The trees are next to a Shiva temple and lie in the centre of the village. The total population of the bats is estimated to be 4,000.

“We feed them with grains and protect them from undue disturbance. They are not harmful to human beings. We do not believe that bats are responsible for COVID-19,” Paramananda Sahoo, a resident of Kabatabandha, said.

“The bats have made these trees their habitat for more than 100 years,” recalled Upendra Sahoo an 86-year-old resident of the village, that has a population of 3000.

“They go out in the night and return to their haunt by daybreak. Though the bats caused some damage to mango and guava orchards in the village, we still conserve them in our village,” Subashini Rout, the sarpanch of Kabatabandha Gram Panchayat, said.

Some tourists visit the village just to take a close look at the bats.

“We believe the bats are a sign of prosperity and good tidings and remove all ominous portents. The natural beauty of the place is heightened by the sight of hundreds of bats hanging from the branches of the large trees,” Sadananda Moharana, the president of the village bat protection committee, said.

“There is no evidence that bats directly infected humans with COVID-19. Bats provide enormous benefits including pollination, seed dispersal and pest control,” he added.

“Kabatabandha is like a mini bat sanctuary,” Abhiram Jena, the forest range officer of Dalijoda forest said.

“Villagers take extra care to protect bats in the summer by sprinkling water with the help of fire brigade men, to save them from the scorching sun. Many wildlife and mammal researchers visit Kabatabandha village to gather first-hand knowledge about bat conservation works. Forest officials have been providing villagers all types of help to conserve the bats,” he added.

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