While talking to a friend of mine I mention to her, “I am writing an article on bats in Mumbai.” She says, “Ewww! Bats? I hate bats.” During my talks with school students on these flying mammals when I ask them how many of them hate bats almost 90% of the class say yes.
A bat is a very mysterious animal which inspires feelings of fear, aversion and loathing as creatures of the night. So much is the effect of these creatures that we even have a comic character named after them – BATMAN, portraying a fearsome superhero fighting crime. The reason for this could be that for many centuries bats have been associated with evil forces and still suffer from superstitions and prejudices. Many cultures all over the globe consider bats as ill omens and signs of bad luck. All these have not lead to the bat as an animal getting any particular sympathy and instead they have been persecuted by humans.
In a city like Mumbai, on the rapid road to development finding bats can be considered a rarity. However, bats are still existent in the city although their numbers are dwindling. There are 119 species of bats found in India out of which, 8 species of bats are found in the Mumbai region. The Indian Fruit bat, also called the Indian Flying fox, the largest bat found in the city is most abundant. Besides the fruit bats we also have other species of insectivorous bats in the city.
These bats are mostly found roosting on big old trees; however they can also be found in many old structures such as houses, caves and temples. In Mumbai, you can see them in the area around Five Gardens, around the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Kalaghoda and many other places in the city with large trees which acts like roosts for bats.
Bats feed on a variety of fruits and insects. Thus they acts as important seed dispersers and pest controllers, feeding on insects like mosquitoes. Road construction, housing projects and felling of trees are threatening bats in our city. Habitat destruction is a major threat to bats as people living around bat colonies consider them to be a bad omen. Trees in which bats live are hacked and caves are fumigated so that the bats leave them. Contrary to popular notion, bats do not feed on human blood and only bite when they feel threatened.
Can we save these furry, leathery winged creatures from the dangers they face in our city? Yes, we can. The biggest threat that they face is our perception of bats. Creating awareness amongst the citizens about bats, how important they are to our fragile ecosystem and how they mean us no harm can go a long way in conserving them.