Mango on Muddle

Agriculture Blogs

  • Sindh province is still in the line of locust liability and coronavirus curse and these ongoing issues have not yet come to an end, but it is now frugivorous giant bats emerging as a new issue, even wildlife officials know least about. Giant flying fruit bats are one of the more unusual animals found in various parts of the world including Sindh.

  • Most bats don’t have rabies. But any bat that is active by day or is found in a place where bats are not usually seen like in your home or on your lawn just might be rabid.

By Prof Dr. Abdullah G Arijo

Mango season is on its peak and growers are down to knees for they can’t find manpower required for processing and packaging for mango export. Reportedly it is town talk that the mango export will be down by at least 30 per cent. “Out of the frying pan into the fire” one may say. Our country, particularly Sindh province is still in the line of locust liability and coronavirus curse and these ongoing issues have not yet come to an end, but it is now frugivorous giant bats emerging as a new issue, even wildlife officials know least about. Giant flying fruit bats are one of the more unusual animals found in various parts of the world including Sindh.

In district Mirpurkhas, with the start of mango pollination season, one may find a huge number of giant fruit bats in mango orchards, creating horrifying effects for the gardeners. Giant bats never bite humans. Rather, some bats eat fruit, seeds, and pollen from flowers and help in cross-pollination in flower-bearing plants including mangoes. Their favorite foods are figs, mangoes, dates, and bananas and flower nectar. They chew the fruit and then spit out the seeds, peel, and pulp and on availability, these seeds germinate into new plants and that way they are helpful.

Scavenging bats often swoop over people’s heads at night in search of insects they want to prey upon. However, rapid and erratic movements of giant bats are misunderstood and often cause people to think they are being attacked.

Giant bats have also misunderstood myth and are associated with Rabies. People cannot get rabies from having contact with bat faeces, blood, or urine or from touching a bat on its fur. However, if someone is bitten by a bat, or if saliva from a bat gets into your eyes, nose or mouth, one must seek medical attention immediately.

Bats are nocturnal (active at night), leaving daytime roosts at dusk. During the day bats sleep in trees, rock crevices, caves, and buildings. Bats do not attack humans or suck their blood. They’ve been shown to carry several harmful infections, including rabies and viruses related to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Moreover, research suggests bats may be the original hosts of nasty viruses such as Ebola, which causes deadly brain fevers in a victim.

“We are so fearful with these giant bats” a villager complained to me during a visit of mango garden. “They bite our kids and create noise that takes our sleep away”, he added. Our folks are virtually within walls after sunset as they become active and looking for us to bite. I thought I must give them full counselling to get rid of the fear that un-necessarily prevails, and I did my job.

Mirpurkhas is very popular for producing high quality of many mango varieties. You drive on Hyderabad-Mirpurkhas Dual Carriage Way, there are mango orchards, these days full of fruit-bats hanging upside-down on mango trees. Those who know nothing or a little, propagate fear that encourages hunting of this species.

Researchers have found that henipaviruses, which spread to other animals and humans, and a disease that is like rabies are widespread in a species of fruit bat found in many parts of Africa. Are fruit bats similar danger in Pakistan is yet to be investigated?

Giant fruit bats in Australia are known to carry two infections which can pose a serious risk to human health such as Lyssavirus and Hendra virus. Human infections with these viruses are very rare but public contact may pose a public health risk. Lyssavirus can only be transmitted to humans when infected fruit bat saliva encounters human tissue through an open wound or mucous membrane e.g. eyes, nose and mouth. Therefore, fruit bats must not be handled.  However, if you are bitten or scratched by a bat, the wound should immediately be washed gently but thoroughly with soap and water, an antiseptic solution such as povidone-iodine applied, and a doctor consulted as soon as possible to assess the need for further treatment. A vaccine and immunoglobulin can prevent infection if given soon after the bite or scratch.

People should not consume fruit that has been partly eaten by these bats, but that is too difficult to make a judgement if the fruit was partly eaten by bats. If the fruit is contaminated with droppings and cannot be peeled, this fruit should not be consumed as there is a small potential risk to humans of gastrointestinal diseases as fruit bats may carry a range of bacteria in their guts.

Most bats don’t have rabies. But any bat that is active by day or is found in a place where bats are not usually seen like in your home or on your lawn just might be rabid. A bat that is unable to fly and is easily approached could very well be sick.

Rabies is a fatal disease. Each year, tens of thousands of people are successfully protected from developing rabies through vaccination after being bitten by an animal like a bat that may have rabies. Those people didn’t recognize the risk of rabies from the bite of a wild animal, particularly a bat, and they didn’t seek medical advice. Awareness of the facts about bats and rabies can help people protect themselves, their families, and their pets. This information may also help clear up misunderstandings about bats.

Giant fruit bats must not be ignored, for they transmit zoonotic diseases including Ebola and Hantavirus. Hence there is dire need to keep masses informed about these fruit bats. Government, particularly wildlife and horticulture departments must focus on awareness programs to hit where it hurts more.

(The writer is Chairman, Department of Veterinary Parasitology, Sindh Agriculture University, Tandojam. He writes regularly for Sindh Courier and various newspapers)

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