A sick fruit bat at Morabadi in Ranchi. (Prashant Mitra)
Batty as it may sound, it takes around 50 carcasses to prove that a protected species exists, if one is to go by the logic of forest department officials.
Officials of Ranchi wildlife division (east) on Sunday said about 50 bats had died probably due to extreme heat. The department also hurriedly put two officials to keep a 24/7 vigil in and around Morabadi, where carcasses were found.
Till Saturday, though, the forest department was apparently unaware of the presence of the flying mammals in the area, leave alone that they were members of the Salim Ali’s fruit bat (Latidens salimalii) species, listed “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. According to studies, there are around 107 bat species in India, of which half a dozen, including the fruit bat, are endangered and under Schedule IV, Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
Some senior officials even put up a public show of their ignorance earlier, telling a number of vernacular dailies that bats did not come under the clauses of the wildlife protection act.
Fifty carcasses later, the scenario changed.
Divisional forest officer Y.K. Das said that the foresters would stay on duty till further orders from higher-ups.
He added that the carcasses had been sent to Birsa zoo’s veterinary hospital for post-mortem “We have deputed a couple of foresters who will keep tabs on any more deaths as well as watch out for activities such as persons pelting stones on these mammals,” said Das.
Reiterating the forest department’s stand of the mammals having died due to excessive heat, Das added that post-mortem reports should make the matter clear.
But, after so much concern, the clincher.
The senior forester said his department did not maintain any record of the numbers or the present status of the mammals in the area. They had not bothered to conduct a study as they were not aware of the existence of bats in Ranchi.
However, sources said that the mammals had been living in Ranchi for ages and the ones that died were endangered fruit bats. These are medium-sized, with heads covered in blackish fur and light brown wings.
If the forest department wanted to hide behind a veil of ignorance, it was ultimately its onus to take care of the creatures, found in abundance in Morabadi.
“The children’s park in Morabadi is full of eucalyptus trees. I find it hard to believe that the forest department didn’t know that bats lived there,” remarked a senior forest official, not wishing to be named.
Another forester added that in 2003-04, the then principal chief conservator forests (wildlife) J.L. Srivastava had in fact mooted a plan to create bat sanctuaries in Jharkhand, which never took off.
“The plan was to identify bat habitations and create area-specific conservation strategies, which was a logical thing to do with minimum resources. Once Srivastava retired, no one bothered to take the plans forward,” he said.
Divisional forest officer of Palamau Tiger Reserve (buffer) A.K. Mishra, who is known to be a bat enthusiast, said eating fruits, or frugivory, was a specific habit found in this particular species.
“They are called fruit bats because these bats feed on the juice of sweet fruits, and in this way disperse seeds as well. Bats are highly developed mammals like human beings. But unlike us, they don’t store food and water as that hampers their flying. Their intake is time-specific,” Mishra said, adding the best way to work towards their conservation was to plant fruit-bearing trees and build shallow ponds.