Let’s explode some myths about bats, starting with that vampire thing as myth number one. Even though the Twilight books and movies have recently made vampires pretty cool even to non-Goth types, you have to admit that there’s an aura of darkness and wickedness surrounding them. Fine. But why tar all bats with the same blood-sucking brush? The truth is that there are no vampire bats in South Africa. Let me repeat: there are no vampire bats in South Africa. In fact, in the whole world there are only one or two vampire bats that actually drink blood and they’re found in Central and South America. (There are also false vampire bats but they don’t feed on blood either, choosing fruit instead. Imagine how hard done-by they feel when people shriek and run away from them when they’re actually as harmless as the little barbets that peck at the fruit in your garden.)
Ok, now for myth number two: all bats have rabies. Rubbish! Although lots of wild animals and dogs carry rabies, it’s rare in bats. One study of 780 bats showed that not a single one was carrying the rabies virus, and a bat expert estimates that less than 1% of bats are infected. So let’s put things into perspective. How many people die in car accidents in South Africa every year? Yes, tens of thousands (although we don’t run screaming from motor cars in horror). Yet there’s only one case in South Africa of a man getting bitten by a wounded, rabies-infected bat. Are we just possibly over-reacting?
Myth number three: bats attack humans. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bats are non-aggressive and no unprovoked attacks have ever been recorded. If you think you’re scared of a bat, try to imagine how much more scared a little bat is of you, flailing about and trying to zap him with your shoe or any other heavy item that comes to hand. He’d far rather avoid you if he can.
Myth number four: bats are riddled with insects that can give you diseases. Absolute rot! In fact, there’ s only one type of insect that’s particularly partial to bats and that’s the bat fly. It’s a parasite that – somewhat revoltingly – feeds off the bat’s blood, but it’s very picky and isn’t even vaguely interested in you. It seems, then, that instead of turning up our noses in disgust and accusing bats of being dirty vampires who attack us to drink our blood, we should be feeling sorry for the poor creatures, who are regularly molested by blood-sucking bat-flies.
One thing I have to admit, though, is that bats really do stink to high heaven. I’m told it’s their urine that has that acrid, throat-choking pong. But before you condemn them for disgusting little creatures that hang upside down and urinate on themselves, remember that the totally adorable, cute little bushbaby (nagapie) intentionally pees on his hands so he can mark his territory as he travels through the trees. And we don’t revile him for it.
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