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Researchers work to rehab image of bats during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 2:00 PM, Apr 06, 2021

With misinformation lurking around nearly every corner of the internet, researchers across the country are working to rehab the image of bats in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Barry Genzlinger runs the Vermont Bat Center and has been rehabbing bats for about a decade.

"Bats are nature's absolute best pest controller for nighttime pests," he explained.

While he has a personal love for bats, Genzlinger understands why not everyone loves these mammals.

"Hollywood has convinced us that bats are scary, evil, they attack humans. When in reality, they are just the cutest darn thing," Genzlinger said.

Genzlinger's goal these days is to keep bats from catching coronavirus. Every single bat he rehabilitated this winter got a nose swab, just like us humans.

Researchers across the country are doing similar testing. Those swabs are then sent to Tufts University to be analyzed. So far, none of Genzlinger’s bats have tested positive for the virus. But the concern is that if one bat has COVID-19, it could infect an entire colony.

"It’s not so much that people in North America are concerned about getting COVID from our bats, it’s the other way around. We are concerned about giving COVID to bats that have never been exposed to it," he said.

COVID-19 has not done the image of bats any favors. The origin of the virus is not confirmed, but some studies indicate it originated from similar viruses found in bats in the Eastern Hemisphere.

In an effort to rehab the image of bats during this pandemic, scientists like Sarah Strew have been hosting a series of online clinics. The goal is to remind folks and educate them about the good bats do for the environment.

"There just had been so much misinformation at the beginning of everything," said Strew.

Strew oversees programs at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science.

"We felt it was important and a way to peak people’s interests because it is something relevant to their lives right now. We’re all going through this together," she added.

There are an estimated 1,300 bat species worldwide, 47 of those species are located in the United States. Many species though are considered endangered because of disease, hunting or their habitats have been destroyed.

So far, evidence suggests that the risk is low that scientists could pass coronavirus to North American bats. But researchers across the country aren't taking any chances and are taking extra precautions to keep bats safe.

"The biggest takeaway is that we as humans are not separate from the natural world," Strew said.

It’s all in an effort to keep the sun from setting on this nation’s population of bats.