10th April 2020

Facts About Bats & COVID-19

As efforts are stepping up around the world to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), there have been numerous reports that various communities and governmental authorities in several regions of the world have been culling bats in a misplaced effort to combat the disease.

Bats need our protection now, more than ever before. The Chief Executive of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), explained, in an opinion piece published earlier this week, that: "The most urgent action needed to combat COVID-19 is to stop its transmission, which is from humans to humans. In the longer term, we need to examine and stop specific human practices and uses of wild animals, and the widespread destruction of natural habitats, in order to prevent another such terrible event in the future."

Culling of bats and their vilification during this pandemic are wrong. These are the facts:

1. Bats do not spread COVID-19. COVID-19 is being transmitted from humans to other humans.

2. There is no evidence that bats directly infected humans with COVID-19 in the first place. Scientific investigations are pointing to a chain of events that may have involved bats but most likely only through an intermediate animal.

3. There are some 1,400 bat species living in the wild around the world (of which 17 are resident and breeding in the UK). Many have adapted to urban environments, living in gardens, urban parks and even roosting around our homes, without posing a threat to their human neighbours.

4. Bats provide enormous benefits including pollination, seed dispersal and pest control, worth billions of dollars annually.

5. Many bat species are in trouble and need our help to survive. Dozens of bat species are protected by CMS and EUROBATS (and all our bat species are protected by UK law). But much more needs to be done to ensure the survival of bats around the world. While the killing of bats will not have any effects on the spread of COVID-19, it would adversely affect the conservation status of bat populations.

6. A similar misdirected focus occurred at the height of the 2006 avian influenza, with calls for widespread culling of migratory waterbirds and the draining of their wetland habitats.

These facts are based on those prepared by the Secretariats of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), the Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (EUROBATS) and the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), in consultation with bat experts in the CMS Family. The original notification to the parties can be found on the EUROBATS website.

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