Kerala researchers batting for better understanding of the flying mammal

Participants at the training programme on bat research held recently at KFRI, Thrissur.

Participants at the training programme on bat research held recently at KFRI, Thrissur.
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Myth, superstition, and zoonotic diseases such COVID-19 and the Nipah virus infection, have created a negative impression of bats. The fallout is that these nocturnal, flying mammals are losing their habitat and their numbers are falling.

On a clear-the-air campaign for bats, a team from Kerala is on a mission to train the next generation of bat researchers and to create awareness about the species’ diversity and ecosystem functions.

The Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment and the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), Peechi, Thrissur, have recently organised training programmes on bat taxonomy, acoustics and biogeography.

The campaign originated from the pressing need to address the challenges posed by emerging zoonotic diseases and the ongoing threats faced by bat populations, including habitat loss and the cutting down of fruit bat roosts.

Peroth Balakrishnan, head of the Department of Wildlife Biology at KFRI, said, “The programme served as a platform to equip researchers with the necessary skills and knowledge to tackle these challenges head on. We conducted such a campaign last year too. We are proud to continue fostering passionate young individuals dedicated to bat research and conservation.”

Sreehari Raman, Assistant Professor at the Kerala Agricultural University, who was part of the programme stressed the significance of taxonomy training in bat conservation, stating, “Taxonomy forms the foundation of bat research and conservation efforts. Proper identification and classification of bat species are essential for implementing effective conservation strategies and understanding their ecological roles.”

A specialist from Thailand offered a session on bat taxonomy. Pipat Soisook, research lecturer and curator of mammals, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Natural History Museum in Thailand, emphasised the need for collaboration among South Asian researchers on bats. “Many bat species overlap in the South Asian region, making collaboration among researchers imperative. By sharing data, resources, and expertise, we can enhance our understanding of these fascinating creatures and work towards their conservation,” he said.

Rohit Chakravarty from the Nature Conservation Foundation and Bat Conservation International shared insights into bat acoustics and monitoring techniques, emphasising the importance of employing modern tools for studying these nocturnal creatures.

The programme also delved into the topics such as biodiversity genomics, social structure, and mating systems in bats, with sessions led by Balaji Chattopadhyay and Kritika M. Garg from Ashoka University. Baheerathan Murugavel, a research associate at IISER Mohali, offered insights on the use of telemetry techniques for studying the movement ecology of bats.

Citizen science

Dr. Peroth, along with wildlife biologist Nithin Divakar, discussed citizen science and participatory approaches in bat conservation, highlighting the role of community engagement in monitoring and conserving bat species.

Parvathy Venugopal, Survey Officer, National Bat Monitoring Programme of the Bat Conservation Trust, U.K., shared the story of U.K.’s longest-running citizen science programme and the potential lessons that could be drawn from it.

Mr. Divakar and Mahalakshmi Chelladurai, who were recently selected for Bat Conservation International’s Student Fellowship Programme, highlighted the various funding opportunities for students taking up research on bats.

At least 35 bat researchers from various institutions across the country participated in the training programme. The training on bat monitoring, taxonomy, acoustics and bat photography using sensor techniques offered a hands-on experience. The programme was supported by the Conservation Leadership Programme and Bat Conservation International.

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