NL Interview with Rohit Chakravarty: Don’t blame bats for the pandemic
Podcast

NL Interview with Rohit Chakravarty: Don’t blame bats for the pandemic

A Phd student who spends his time making sense of bats and how they live, Rohit clears some misconceptions on the much maligned mammal.

By NL Team

Published on :

The world’s gotten a little more interested in bats over the past one month or so. Mostly, since the novel coronavirus hit global headlines — a virus that has, let’s just say, humbled the human. We can say with some certainty that bats are the natural reservoir of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic. But an intermediate host was needed for it to jump from bats to humans. This host is speculated to be a pangolin.

A Vox explainer succinctly explained how these three actors — bats, pangolins and humans — could have come together at a Wuhan wet market to cause an outbreak.

Watch it, it’s quite informative.

Given the focus on bats as hosts of coronavirus, there’s been much discussion around and malligning of the mammal: “they are dirty”, “useless”, “we should cull them out”, and, of course, “why do people eat them!! That’s not normal!!”

In this podcast, Manisha Pande brings on board Rohit Chakravarty to discuss some of these questions. Rohit is a PhD student at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany. He studies bats in the Himalayas of Uttarakhand, investigating how their diversity changes across elevations, what they eat and generally, how they get by in their lives in the mountains. He has also worked on bats in the Andaman Islands and has co-authored the book, The Naturalist's Guide to the Mammals of India.

Rohit explains that bats have a special immunity that makes them resilient even as they host viruses that can be deadly for other animals, especially humans. So, do we need to fear them? Not really. He says: “Bats have been living all around us for centuries…they live close to you but they know how to mind their own business.” The novel coronavirus outbreak has occurred for reasons that are more manmade than naturally occuring, he says.

Which means eating bats, right? Nope again. Rohit says that humans have traditionally hunted and eaten bats for long, especially forest dwellers. The problem is the scale at which it’s being done today. “Almost every forest dwelling community that I know of, has a bat hunting tradition and these are particularly common in Nagaland or even in Northern Orissa, Chattisgarh, in West Bengal as well. Then further down south in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. A lot of tribes do eat even in the Andaman Islands,” he says.

Finally, we get to why bats are important to the larger scheme of things. Did you know that there would be no tequila in the world if it weren’t for bats?

Listen on and find out why.

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