Tamil Nadu state of southern India enjoys a rich cultural heritage and a thriving, rice-based agriculture. Imposing Hindu temples built 500 to 1,000 years ago still stand alongside the rivers that cross the region. But as farms and cities grew, bat habitat disappeared – and some homeless bat colonies found desperately needed sanctuary in dark recesses of those ancient temples.
|One of the ancient Hindu temples studied as bat habitat in India. Courtesy of M. Mathivanan
But now, conservationist M. Mathivanan reports, the temple bats are under threat as the temple towers are modernized and lighting is installed into once-dark spaces. One recent temple renovation displaced some 10,000 fruit bats. None of them returned.
With support from a BCI Global Grassroots Conservation Fund grant, Mathivanan and the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment surveyed 61 temples for bat use and confirmed bat roosts in 31 of them. They identified five temple-roosting species and documented the temple characteristics that seem to attract bat populations. Local college students were trained in bat research and monitoring, and schoolchildren and other residents were educated about the benefits of bats.
Given the importance of farming in the region, the economic value of insect-eating bats could be very significant. Yet local people know almost nothing about their bats, which are widely considered vermin and are routinely persecuted.
The team counted a total of 4,116 bats, capturing many in mist nets to identify species before releasing the bats. The newly trained students from Tamil Nadu Agriculture University helped with the netting and should provide the core of a community of bat watchers who will help monitor and protect these bats in the future.
Mathivanan and his team developed educational materials and presented programs for students at two schools in the area. They organized bat-appreciation projects during October’s Wildlife Week in India, with bat-drawing competitions proving especially popular. The conservationists described and identified the roosting bats and their value to local farmers.
“Obviously,” Mathivanan said after meetings with temple officials, “we cannot prevent the renovations, but we are working to minimize their impact on bat colonies. We hope to provide bat houses or other artificial roosts for bats that are displaced by temple renovations.” He said many officials enthusiastically supported the use of bat houses in their temples.
As is so often the case for bat conservation around the world, education is the key to protecting India’s temple bats. Learning about the economic and ecological value of bats gives people a reason to conserve the flying mammals they have disdained for generations.
BCI Members can read the complete story of the effort to save India’s temple bats in the Fall issue of BATS magazine. You can help BCI support critical bat-conservation efforts like this one and other important projects around the world.