By Maitri Porecha
Winged and leathery, not furry or feathery. Bats are mostly looked upon as dark, mysterious creatures that should be left to their own devices as opposed to a cuddly dog or cat. The city shuns and detests them, but the mammals do have a few fans in the city who will do everything it takes to keep them safe.
The Maharashtra Nature Park Society (MNPS) in Dharavi will reach out to 750 of the 3,400 schools in the city in the first lap to raise awareness about bat conservation. Upto four bat colonies have been identified in Mumbai, of which two are reeling under the ever-growing threat of demolitions.
"Any person who sights a bat in their locality should click pictures of its habitat and the creatures and email them to us. We will later profile the area to collect base line data and mapping," said Dr Avinash Kubal, deputy director, MNPS.
Residents of the Dadar Parsee colony in Five Gardens, Matunga (East) say they are harrowed over the cackling of fruit bats found in hordes around trees in their locality. Fruit Bats or Ptreopus feed on fruits and berries and are often spotted hovering near mango and cheeku trees. "Close to 2,000 fruit bats have made the trees in the colony their home. It is one of the largest conglomerations of bats discovered in Mumbai at the moment," said Dr Bandana Aul Arora, bat expert, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) at Kalaghoda in South Mumbai.
Dr Sanjeev Shevade, an othrodontist by profession and a wildlife buff, directed the BNHS researchers to the bat colonies at Matunga. "The residents were ignorant and did not realise the importance of conserving bats as a species. We are trying to raise awareness about protecting these mammals which form an important part of the city's ecosystem," said Dr Shevade.
Busting myths about the popular impression of bats being blood-sucking vampires, Dr Arora said, "Bats do not consume human blood. They bite only as a defense mechanism if they are harassed. They do not attack humans." She added, "Certain species of insect-eating bats consume up to 1,000 to 2,000 mosquitoes each night lurking above the tree canopies. Bat droppings make the soil around the area extremely fertile."
Another colony of close to 200 bats roost at the periphery of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Kalaghoda was under the threat of destruction. "The staff working at the museum was allegedly injecting some medicine in the trees to take them down. They may have been doing this to clear the periphery but this would affected the bat colonies unless we intervened and advised them against felling of trees," said Dr Arora. Another prominent bat colony in BMC-run Veermata Jijabai Udyan Zoo at Byculla houses close to 400 bats.
Mammologists, Dr Arora from BNHS and Dr Mahesh Gaikwad from Nisarg Jagar Prathishthan in Pune are embarking on a nation-wide survey for mapping bat populations. "Upto 119 varied species of insect and fruit-eating bats exist in India," said Dr Gaikwad.
Bats aren't that bad
Bats do not consume human blood and only bite when threatened
Certain species of insect-eating bats consume up to 1,000 to 2,000 mosquitoes each night
Mumbai has 4 to 5 bat colonies in Colaba, Dadar Parsee Colony and Veermata Jijabai Udyan
Any person sighting bat colonies should click pictures of it and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
To conserve bats, people should grow fruit trees like Mango, Peepal, Tamarind, Almond, Cherry, Chikkoo, Gauva, Cherry and Peru amongst others.