Ever since coronavirus and other diseases such as the Nipah virus have become a part of our life, we have been reading a lot about bats and their impact on human life. While most of the things that we have been reading are negative in nature, this article will try to highlight the positive role that bats play in human life.
Let’s start by giving a lot of facts such as bats help by eating insects in the nighttime. In the farms, they eat a lot of disease-causing mosquitoes. In fact, they also spread the seeds of very important fruit, such as bananas, guavas, cashews, mangoes, etc. In fact, there was a study conducted in Thailand that found out that bats and the insects that they ate, led to a saving of over one million dollars. Not just this, the bat droppings are also great fertilizers since they are pretty rich in nitrogen and phosphorus.
Having said that, we cannot ignore the fact that bats are natural reservoirs to many viruses that have caused diseases such as Nipah, Hendra, Ebola and even the coronavirus. The interesting fact is, despite being the host of so many viruses, bats themselves don’t fall ill. That is because they have developed such an immune system that helps them fight these viruses and even helps them in ageing at a very slow pace. That is why bats usually have a very long life as compared to other mammals.
Now, why is it that in the past decade or so, a lot of diseases originating from bats have been seen in humans?
The very obvious reason for this is an expansion of human activities into the natural habitats of bats and other animals. With increasing population and increasing construction, we are trying to build infrastructure at as many places as possible. A lot of caves, which used to be natural habitats of bats, are being overtaken by humans. That is why there is an increased interaction between humans and animals, not just humans and bats. You see, it has become quite common news that leopards or tigers are coming into cities, that snakes are found at places where people are living.
So all of that is happening because humans are now going into the areas where animals were supposed to live. There is also a very interesting case study of the Bomrr clan in Nagaland. The Bomrr clan in Nagaland have a tradition in which they gather at a place called Mimi, and they send a lot of smoke into the caves of bats. When the bats start coming out, they kill the bats and they consume them. Although they have very close interaction with the bats, some of the bats even bite them in their defence, but people from these clans have not seen any bat-related diseases, and that also is a matter of scientific research that is still going on. Multiple studies are now trying to ascertain what all viruses are seen inside the bats so that we can be prepared for them in advance.
Now, before I conclude this article, let me tell you a very interesting story about the bird sparrow and China. Hopefully, you will learn something from this.
So the story goes back to 1958. In the 1950s, Mao Zedong announced that he wants to take the Chinese country forward and make it a world leader. A lot of drastic steps were taken, including banning any private farming, so the lands of every one were combined and everyone together had to work in the farmlands so that the production of grains and all other foods should increase. Mao Zedong at that time asked his advisers about what can be done to increase and maximize the production of food grains in China. One of the pieces of advice that were given to Mao Zedong was that the sparrow bird, the harmless sparrow bird eats a lot of food grains, so in order to maximize our production, we should kill these sparrow birds.
Mao Zedong without having any second thought, in 1958 started a campaign called Smash Sparrow. Now under this Smash Sparrow campaign, people were told to kill sparrows whenever they see it, leading to the killing of lakhs of these sparrows.
Now, what happened next?
Very soon, China found out that the sparrow birds don’t just eat food grains. They eat a lot of insects as well, the insects that would actually harm the food grains much more. Now that they were no sparrows in China, these insects were free and these insects in millions and millions of numbers started attacking the food grains in China. So much so that there was such a shortage of food grains in China that it led to the worst Chinese famine in its entire history, with the millions of people dying because it just did not have enough food to eat because of locust attack, because the insects were just eating all the food grains available.
In fact, there have been many documentaries that have stated that in that time in the 1960s in China, there was so much shortage of food grains that people started killing and eating each other. Parents ate their kids and kids ate their own parents. Thousands of people were murdered just for food. Why?
Because there were just no food grains because the sparrows that used to kill the insects were nowhere to be found. As any other great leader, Mao Zedong also never accepted that he was responsible for it. So the government never apologized. But what they did was realize their mistake, they started buying sparrow birds from other countries such as the USSR, thousands and lacs or sparrow birds were imported. They were set free, and almost after a decade, this problem started to come under control. But just see what one bad decision of the government can do.
Official records say that almost five crore people died in China just because the Communist Party of China, led by Mao Zedong, ordered the killing of the sparrows. So let’s not commit the same mistake, and let’s not go on a campaign of killing and getting rid of all the bats.