Bat Conservation India Trust
The team from the Bengaluru-based Bat Conservation India Trust is dispelling myths and collecting crucial data on India’s neglected mammalians, writes Anirudh Nair.
Photo Courtesy: Bat Conservation India Trust.
Bats attack humans, drink human blood, and bring bad luck. These are just a few of the myths about bats that Cheeku and Meeku are trying to dispel. Who are Cheeku and Meeku, you ask? Cheeku, the fruit bat, and Meeku, the insect bat, are the protagonists of a cartoon series created by Rohan Chakravarty and published by the Bat Conservation India Trust (BCIT). The series, which is now being translated into various languages to help spread awareness among children, is one of the key educational initiatives of the Trust that was founded in January 2014 by two passionate naturalists and wildlife photographers, Rajesh Puttaswamaiah and Chaitra Ramaiah. Driven by a mission to conserve natural habitats that harbour diverse species of bats across India, they along with a team of volunteers conduct field-based research and create awareness through community education.
“I assisted BCIT in one of its bat research programmes in north Karnataka. I focused on birds as a Forest Department volunteer and photographer, and this was my first exposure to bats. Assisting in research helped me to understand the ecological role of bats and why their survival is important,” said Neeraj Bhanuprakash, a BCIT volunteer.
Headquartered in Bengaluru, the team is concentrating its energies on two projects – one is preventing the harvest of bats by the Bomrr community in Nagaland, and the other is research on the diversity of bat species in the northern Western Ghats – apart from conducting short surveys across south Karnataka to gather distribution and diversity data on bats.
The community-based conservation project that provides alternate livelihoods to the Bomrr clan, which believes that only by harvesting and consuming bats every year post-monsoon will their souls be accepted by their ancestors, is immensely challenging. Overcoming the cultural significance of this practice in a remote area of Nagaland with little funding is by no means easy, but the team hopes for a breakthrough with the representative of the community soon. The ongoing project in the Western Ghats meanwhile has resulted in some amazing discoveries and new insights into the world of bats.
“We decided to screen a short documentary that we made on the bat harvest to the Bomrr clan as part of our outreach programme. Apprehensive that they might be offended, we were actually surprised by their reaction. The scenes that people in Bengaluru found to be disturbing and depressing were met with mouth-watering ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ by the community. This incident was a real eye opener for us to understand cultural differences, and confirmed our belief that it’s critical for us to continue to involve the community and seek their support rather than to use force,” said Puttaswamaiah.
The greatest challenge that BCIT faces in their work is the lack of popularity of the species they are trying to protect. Authorities and policy makers do not understand the critical role that bats play in the ecosystem, and securing funding for their conservation is therefore more difficult than tiger or elephant conservation, which has guaranteed ‘returns’.
“With the frontiers between humans and wildlife diminishing at an alarming rate, BCIT emphasises a comprehensive strategy that includes field conservation, which is supplemented by public awareness campaigns and citizen science. Orthodoxy and misconceptions continue to outweigh the ecological importance of bats and it is imperative for us to appreciate their significance in the biosphere. BCIT seeks to create opinion leaders from local communities so as to change mindsets of the larger population,” said Tarun Sridhara, an experienced naturalist and BCIT volunteer.
In order to bring bats into the narrative of mainstream conservation, BCIT aims to make documentaries to educate people on their importance. They also encourage budding naturalists, biologists and photographers to take up research and documentation of bats.
“In the struggle of wildlife conservation, where the big cats are favoured, not only are bats ignored but they are victimised as vermin. Even an experienced naturalist or biologist may not know that bats constitute more than 25 per cent of mammalian species in India. Unfortunately, they are regarded as evil and ugly creatures. BCIT undertakes awareness initiatives to dispel these myths through photography and enlightens the public about their beauty,” adds Puttaswamaiah.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Bat Conservation India Trust,
No. 109, 2nd Floor, 8th Main Road, 4th Stage, 4th Block, Basaweshwaranagar, Bengaluru, Karnataka – 560079.
Author: Anirudh Nair, First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVI No. 6, June 2016.