Bats have a bad rap.
In movies, they’re depicted as scary, blood-sucking creatures to fear. But in reality, the small vertebrate mammals, for the most part, eat bugs and plants, playing an important role in the world’s ecosystem.
Known for their nocturnal habits, bats typically spend the night searching for food, eating or looking for a mate before returning home to spend daylight hours resting. With around 1,000 species of bats, this winged mammal belongs to one of the most diverse groups in the world.
The majority of bats feed on bugs, pollen or fruits, a few species eat frogs, lizards and mice, but the most famous kind is the blood-feasting vampire bat. While the vampire bat can spread diseases, particularly to cattle and other livestock, bats in general actually work to keep the ecosystem blooming. Like bees, bats pollinate fruit, flowers and other plants. They also tackle insect infestations with their appetite for bugs.
In Honduras, around 112 bat species have been identified, one of which is the vampire bat. Their victims are often cattle; and as vampire bats are vectors for disease, they can harm milk production, spread sickness, and even kill the cattle, leading to economic losses. Because of this bats are generally considered dangerous and human attacks are their number one threat.
In spite of this, bats regenerate and maintain their environments, which other species depend on.
Why are bats important?
The presence of bats in ecosystems has many benefits. Here are three good reasons to love bats:
- Bats perform insect pest control without damaging the environment (as would otherwise be the case with exterminators).
- They disperse seeds and pollinate flowers of ecologically important plants (About 500 species of flowers from around the world depend on bat pollination).
- Bats eliminate mosquitoes, which can carry vector-borne diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and zika.
Protecting livelihoods and bats at the same time
As darkness fell on central Honduras, a few farmers and agricultural workers flicked on their flashlights and took turns closely examining different bats. This would be the first time they take a close look at the creatures to learn about rather than kill them.
As part of the GEF-funded Productive Landscapes project, and in partnership with the National University of Agriculture, UNDP trained 118 students and agricultural and livestock farmers in Olancho Department. Participants learned first-hand the ecological value of bats and their importance in maintaining a healthy dynamic in ecosystems and productive landscapes.
Together, workshop leaders and community members defined strategies for the protection and conservation of the local fauna, seeking alternatives of coexistence between producers and biodiversity. The participants learned how to identify the vampire bat and the actions they can take to avoid their attacks on their livestock, respecting diversity but reducing their economic losses.
“When they told us that they were doing a workshop on bats, I thought it would be about killing the bats, since they affect our cattle, but when they explained their ecological importance, we understood that it is better to protect the bats because of the pollination work they do,” said Héctor Canela, one of the participants of the Mangulile Field School.
By educating the community about the importance of bats, the project contributes to compliance with the country’s main planning instruments and international commitments to promote sustainable community development and conservation of the country’s biodiversity and natural resources.
More on the project: In order to reduce the myths and gaps between biodiversity conservation and livestock production, the project “Generating Multiple Global Environmental Benefits through Productive Sustainable Landscapes,” financed by the GEF and implemented by MiAmbiente and UNDP, trains farmers on the value and ecological importance of these species.
Text and photos by UNDP Honduras