You’ve no reason to fear strange bats, experts say

Bats at Uhuru Garden in Mombasa County on May 4, 2019. Bats have increased over the years in Mombasa. (Kelvin Karani, Standard)
Scientists and researchers from various state agencies have converged in Mombasa to study thousands of bats that have invaded the city’s Uhuru Gardens and established a huge colony.

The agencies involved in the study yesterday said Mombasa residents have nothing to worry about because bats have traditionally coexisted with humans without causing disease.

This is despite a recent discovery of the non-fatal bombali Ebola virus strain in parts of Taita Taveta County by researchers from the University of Nairobi earlier this year.

Under pressure

Although these mammals have been at the gardens for close to two decades, the National Museums of Kenya, which is coordinating the research, is under pressure to assuage popular misgivings that bats often carry virulent pathogens and micro-organisms like the Ebola virus and deadly Marbug fever.

The ongoing surveillance seeks to establish the origins of the bats, their actual species, migratory pattern, why they left their natural forest habitat and converged on the park, and whether they carry any disease strains.

The study will be funded by the National Research Fund for Sh20 million and will involve experts from the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).

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Bats are known to migrate for hundreds of kilometres in a night and thousands of miles between nations each year.

NMK Director-General Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia explained the rationale and scope of the survey.

“Due to habitat loss, many bats are increasingly invading human spaces. Negative perceptions of the bats have also brought a new form of human-wildlife conflict. The implication of bats in the emergence of diseases has further complicated the conservation strategies,” said Dr Kibunjia.

He said the joint study is fully funded by the taxpayer to investigate co-existence of Kenya’s animal and plant species and preempt and address any public health concerns that arise when the species interact with the human population.

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