A California myotis in building roost. The bat lives in B.C. and along the West Coast of North America. Photo supplied

Researchers adapt to protect bats in Comox Valley and around province

Along with potential of COVID-19, B.C. bat populations already face threat of white nose syndrome

From the early days of the coronavirus, bats have been at the centre of the discussion around its origins.

One suggestion has been the virus showed up in humans after a person consumed a bat from a market in Wuhan, China. Others posit there was probably an intermediary species between bats and humans that allowed COVID-19 to spread.

“The species in between, however, is maybe not yet confirmed,” says Tim Ennis, co-ordinator of the North Island chapter of the B.C. Community Bat program. “There’s been lots of talk.”

Those in B.C. who work with bats point out the mammals here do not pose a danger when it comes to COVID-19. For one thing, the species in question in Asia, the horseshoe bat, is not found in the province.

On top of this, there is concern among bat researchers that the coronavirus can spread from humans to other animals such as bats.

“Wildlife biologists and wildlife health experts are concerned about the possibility that humans can pass COVID-19 to our native, local bat species,” Ennis says. “That would make us a health risk to them, not the other way around.”

RELATED STORY: Canadians urged to include pets in their COVID-19 emergency plans

In response, he adds, there are guidelines now around research of bats. Work such as catching them for tagging purposes, for example, has been postponed until any concern is resolved. As well, any bats in the care of a rehabilitation centre are not supposed to be released back into the wild for now because of possible infection. If a bat contact cannot be avoided, researchers are being asked to wear masks, beyond the usual protective equipment like gloves.

Mandy Kellner, provincial co-ordinator of the B.C. Bat Program, emphasizes bats often carry other coronaviruses and adds the possibility of local bats contracting from people is still hypothetical.

“Getting real information out about bats is one of the problems,” she says. “It’s quite possible that they could get the virus in theory.”

There are other health issues for people when it comes to bats. There were a couple of cases of rabies on Vancouver Island last year, and people should take precautions around bats and avoid contact, but the danger is considered low. Still, there is a lot of conflicting information about bats, particularly of late.

Due to COVID-19, people who handle bats as part of tracking the health of their populations are avoiding direct contact right now.

RELATED STORY: Bat from Denman Island tests positive for rabies

RELATED STORY: Bats could be key to mosquito battle in Comox Valley locations

Bat program proponents continue to point out bats can help humans in many ways, especially as a measure to control pests like mosquitoes that can carry disease.

“We, of course, feel that there is minimal health risk to people from bats, and that they deserve more credit than criticism for the services they provide,” Ennis says.

Loss of habitat is always one concern in maintaining healthy cat colonies. The health issue among bats in B.C. that causes the most concern right now though is a disease called white nose syndrome, a fungus that has decimated bat colonies further east in North America but more recently has been moving west. The disease is responsible for making the most common B.C. species, the brown myotis, become endangered. There are about 15 species in the province.

The fungus started showing up in the Pacific Northwest a few years ago, so there is concern in B.C. about what that could mean to the bat population.

“It’s been spreading in Washington,” Kellner says. “It’s now in four counties there.”

She says the disease is not always easy to confirm. Bat researchers are asking people to report any dead bats they find throughout the winter, so they can take samples. They also collect guano for testing and collect swabs from bats to check for the fungus, though the latter activity has stopped because of the pandemic.

“We do expect the white nose fungus to be either in B.C. and we haven’t detected it yet, or arriving in the very near future,” she says.

Still, coronavirus is affecting the way they work with bats for now, and bat researchers realize when it comes to the coronavirus, the focus for the foreseeable future on COVID-19 research as well on personal protective equipment use is around humans rather than bats.

“With all the other research priorities around COVID-19, I can’t imagine it’s at the top of the list,” Kellner says.

For now, all they can do is take precautions not to create another health issue for the animals they hope to protect.



mike.chouinard@comoxvalleyrecord.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

AnimalsCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tsolum River Restoration Society members keeping busy during COVID-19 times

Young fish can get stranded in the most unlikely of places

Police looking for witnesses to Courtenay bear spray assault

The incident took place Tuesday, May 26 at around 8:30 p.m.

2020 Hornby Island trade tokens of sentimental value only

The Hornby Island Token Project is in its third and final year,… Continue reading

Box containing hundreds of family photos found in Courtenay returned to rightful owner

Local media sources collaborate to solve family photos mystery

Mission prison COVID-19 outbreak ends, 9 new cases in B.C.

New positive test at Port Coquitlam care home

Comox Valley business map offers information on local eateries, grocery stores and more

Search and click for hours and services offered during the COVID-19 pandemic

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

RCMP told of alleged assault in Courtenay hours after the fact

Police only made aware of possible attack through social media posts

Man who bound, murdered Vancouver Island teen still a risk to public: parole board

Kimberly Proctor’s killer is still ‘mismanaging emotions,’ has had ‘temper tantrums’

VIDEO: Humpback whales put on quite a show

The ‘playful’ pod lingered by a Campbell River tour operator’s boat for quite some time

Getting hitched at historic B.C. gold rush town still on table during COVID-19 pandemic

Micro-weddings, online visits, offered at Barkerville Historic Town and Park

Stolen gargoyle returns to its perch on central Vancouver Island yard

Petey, a concrete gargoyle statue, was returned by Nanaimo RCMP after being found by city crew

Revelstoke woman finds welcoming letter on her Alberta-registered truck

There have been multiple reports online of vandalism to vehicles with Alberta licence plates

Most Read