Bats are by far one of the most common kinds of mammals across the planet, with more than 1,300 different kinds of them stretching over six continents. Why, then, are so many of them considered to be endangered, and who is to blame for that?
The latter to both of those questions, in various forms, can sadly be summed up in a single word – us. For centuries, human encroachment and hunting of animals has been one of the most common causes of them going extinct, from the Mammoth and Barbary Lion to the Great Auk and Dodo. We don’t want bats to “go the way of the dodo,” which means that we need to protect them (and other species that are threatened by human action), which is where the idea of animals with protected statuses comes in.
Across the world, various governments and organizations have come together to pass laws against hunting or otherwise interfering with bats. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the plethora of reasons for which bats are protected and how you can do your part to make sure bats retain the protection they need to survive.
Reasons Bats Are Threatened
The biggest reason bats are threatened today is human activity. There are more than 1,300 species around the world, and roughly one third of these are threatened or data is scarce and circumstantial indications show they may be in trouble. The status of bats in the United States and around the world is fluid. For example, just in 2015 the Northern Long-Eared Bat was added to the list of animals protected by the Endangered Species Act.
As demonstrated by the list of causes below, humans are far and away the greatest threat to bats today, destroying their habitat and posing a direct threat to their survival.
1. Habitat Loss
By far one of the biggest threats facing bats is the loss of their habitat. There are a number of reasons for this, ranging from human encroachment on hunting and roosting grounds to the outright destruction of these places by humans to climate change. The more unstable bats’ living situation becomes, the more their populations become threatened.
One of the biggest problems with the loss of a bat’s habitat is the fact that it creates a domino effect, which affects not just them but the ecosystem at large. If bats do not have their regular places to roost, they may be forced to venture out into new, potentially human-occupied areas. If they fail in this, they may die off, which can in turn mean that an overabundance of the insects they eat or fruits that rely on them for pollination are not getting this help. Either way, the loss of a bat habitat creates a gaping hole in the ecosystem at large.
2. Construction Work
Building in bat habitats without considering the consequences can lead to bats losing their homes – and you losing a lot of money and permits as the result of legal action. There are many laws protecting bats from having their natural habitats recklessly destroyed by developers. For example, in the UK both the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2017) offer protections for bats and other animals against construction work which might otherwise compromise their habitats.
3. Wind Farms and Turbines
While wind farms and turbines are an essential part of the push for clean energy in the US, UK, EU, and beyond, that does not mean they are not without their problems, one of which being the potential risk they pose to bats. Not only is there the risk of bats accidentally crashing into them or that newly-constructed wind turbines may compromise bats’ habitats, but their rotating propellers can change the air pressure in bats’ flight paths in a manner deleterious to the bats. For this reason, clean energy companies work closely with wildlife conservation teams, including bat specialists, to avoid such unintended consequences.
4. Cat Attacks
Among domestic animals, cats pose arguably the biggest danger to bats. While you don’t want a bat biting your cat, either, given the risk of rabies, cats are often more than a match for bats and can catch and maul them. The overwhelming majority of bats rescued after cat attacks do not return to the wild, such is the extent of their injuries. Keep your cat safe from bats and vice versa, and contact an experienced bat care expert if your cat does catch a bat so they can receive the medical treatment they need. A trip to the vet to make sure your cat doesn’t have rabies also wouldn’t be amiss.
5. Light and Hunting Issues
For creatures of the night, too much lighting is a big problem. Churches in Sweden have warded off bats with bright light. On the one hand, that’s a clever way of keeping bats away, but on the other hand, it shows the perils of bats and humans coming into increased contact.
This is especially true when it comes to hunting. Both the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and the Conservation Regulations (1994) as well as their aforementioned UK equivalents establish several prohibitions designed to protect bats.
Among the most important and protective of these prohibitions are against:
- Intentionally capturing, injuring, or killing bats, which are already acts of animal cruelty and can carry extra penalties given the threatened and legally protected status of bats.
- Deliberately disturbing bats in their roost; while this does not typically apply for simply warding off bats from your property, intentionally harming bats is still illegal.
- Deliberately disturbing bats’ roosts, even if they are not occupying them at the time.
- Deliberately blocking off the entrance or other access to a bat roost.
- Illegally possessing bats (dead or alive) or otherwise selling, advertising, or exchanging them; keeping exotic as well as domestic bats in any capacity typically requires several forms of licensure and certification and cannot be done without approval.
Who and What Is Protecting Them?
As demonstrated above, laws dedicated to conservation efforts and preserving bat habitats along with groups dedicated to enforcing them are the two primary things protecting bats against the myriad threats facing them today.
Laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the US and UK laws mentioned above closely monitor how bats are treated while imposing greater controls and regulations on how people and businesses can interact with their environments. Business contracts are replaceable, animal species are not. For that reason, a huge push in animal conservation has been to make companies in the US, UK, and beyond respect the need for conserving habitats without compromising their economic visions. Too often “The Economy” and “The Environment” are pitted against one another, as if they are a zero some choice we must make, when in reality this is a false choice.
The Environmental Protection Agency and bat conservation groups in the US along with the Bat Conservation Trust in the UK and Eurobats in the EU work with their respective governments and local and international companies to find solutions to these questions.
Bats are already protected largely because their numbers are threatened due to human interference.
It is only fitting, therefore, that environmentally-conscious human intervention should help save them.