Why We Need Bats

Different from bigger animals, bats do not play a role in any Lao folk tales. But they are essential to our environment and for a balanced ecosystem. However, the population of bats in Laos has decreased mainly due to habitat destruction and overhunting. This poses a risk to our ecosystems and livelihoods.


Bats are warm-blooded mammals covered with a soft fur, the only mammals that are able to fly. Of more than 1,000 bat species in the world, 94 can be found in Laos. One of them, the Laotian Leaf-Nosed Bat, can only be found in Laos. The Phou Khao Khouay National Biodiversity Conservation Area about 11 kilometers north east of Vang Vieng hosts the Phou Khao Khouay Leaf-Nosed Bat, an animal that otherwise only lives in northern Vietnam. The IUCN Red List classifies this bat species as vulnerable and likely to become extinct in the wild if no protection measures are taken.


Dr. Bounsavane Doungboupha of the Faculty of Environmental Sciences at the National University of Laos has studied bat diversity in National Protected Areas (NPA) in Laos since 2010. He explained that most of the Laotian bat species are found in Phou Hin Poun and Hin Nam No National Protected Areas in Khammouane Province.  “This is because these limestone areas have caves which are the places bats love to live in”, he added.


Although there is no research focusing specifically on the bat population their situation is quite a concern. “The number of bats is declining mainly because of habitat loss and overhunting for consumption and trade,” Dr. Bounsavane said. “The loss of their habitats is caused by forest destruction and development projects. Some people set nets over cave entrances capturing large numbers of bats”, he explained.


Such statements illustrate that some wildlife species are in danger. This reflects a concern of the third of five articles about wildlife conservation in Laos in Vientiane Times. This article focuses on some of the importance of protecting bats for the sake of rural people's livelihoods and balanced ecosystems.


Loss of wildlife affects people’s livelihoods


One major reason why we humans need bats is their role in the reproduction of plants that depend on cross-pollination. Pollination is the process by which pollen, the powdery grains produced by the male part of a plant, is transferred to the female reproductive organs of a plant of the same species so that fertilization takes place. The reproductive unit is the seed, and pollination is an essential step in the production of seeds in all seed plants.


Only a few plants are able to self-pollinate. Most plants rely on cross-pollination which can happen through wind, water and animals. This is where the bats come in. In addition to insects and birds, fruit bats along with nectar-eating bats are pollinators. They transfer pollen between plants and trees which leads to the fertilization of agricultural crops and flowering plants. Without cross-pollination through insects, birds and bats agricultural production is impossible. Dr. Bounsavane explained that certain plants such as durian tree and leguminous trees, which produces the petai bean (Parkia speciosa), depend entirely on bats for pollination. “Without bats, we will not have durian to eat,” he states.


Moreover, some bats and birds disperse seeds of trees and other plants. For example, when bats eat a guava they carry the fruit seeds in their stomachs and excrete them far away from the original tree. These seeds drop to the ground enclosed in their own ready-made natural fertilizer which helps them germinate and grow.

Bats also function as pesticide control agents, because they are the world’s most important insect eaters. A single nursing bat can eat half its weight in insects every day which helps keep the insect population in check. By feeding on insects, bats protect agricultural crops as they reduce crops damage caused by insects and decrease the need for pesticides.

Did you know?

...that insect-eating bats can help control rice pests by eating White-Backed Planthopper?


...that bats help preventing rice loss of ca. 2.900 tons per year, saving more than 1.2 million US dollars annually?


...that an American brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in a single hour?


Unsustainable hunting causes imbalanced ecosystems


“If the wildlife population declines, not just bats, this will definitely have a negative impact on people’s livelihood and the ecosystem. Overhunting will lead to a decrease of our food sources and will cause out-of-balance ecosystems,” stated Dr. Bounsavane.


The fate of bats in Laos presents an example of threats wildlife is exposed to in Laos and how the loss of wildlife affects people’s livelihoods. Due to overhunting for consumption and trade especially large-bodied mammals, birds and reptiles have become rare. The decline of large-bodied species has negative effects on rural households as they lose important staple food. As a result, consumption and trade of wildlife today mainly relies on small-bodied animals weighing less than two kilograms. Another severe threat is that the loss of small predators such as snakes and civets causes their prey, e.g. rats and mice, to produce more offspring and multiply. In turn, this will pose a major threat to human health and post-harvest storage.





 

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ENVIRONMENTAL FILMS



You can now watch 12 professionally produced documentary films broadcast on LNTV in 2017. Three or four episodes of 15 minutes each make up for a mini-series that focuses on a specific topic, e.g. wildlife or forest protection. More films supported by ProCEEd and other GIZ projects are shown as well.

ENVIRONMENTAL RADIO



You can listen in to selected radio programs produced by LNR Khammouane in Thakek and Boualapha as well as by LNR Huaphan in Sam Neua and Houameuang. Some of them have even been translated into Khmu and Hmong language. Three 15-min episodes make up for a mini-series that focuses on a specific topic.

ENVIRONMENTAL TOURS



At the provincial and district level, Environmental Tours with entertaining environmental education activities regularly tour four provinces and Vientiane Capital. A bus and a truck using solar-powered equipment facilitate film, theatre and local learning and discussion initiatives. Don’t miss the tour!