Save the bats ... because their lives are their own ("COVID-19 drives new threat to bats in China")

Updated 8 April 2020

An article from 27 March 2020 in the prestigious scientific journal Science, written by zoologist Huabin Zhao (PhD) from Wuhan University, China, discusses an important topic:

The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) almost certainly comes from Wuhan, and almost certainly, SARS-CoV-2 originates from a certain species of bats (possibly one kind of horseshoe bat). (See here for more info.)

The general public in China are, of course - like anywhere else - not bat experts, nor are they advocates of animal rights, unfortunately, and understandably some people are now a bit scared of bats. Plus, bats to humans can look a bit creepy (I speak from close-up experience) ... with their pointy teeth and leathery wings, and their seeming madness should they fly into your room at night.

Anyway, in his short article, Dr Zhao makes some very important points:

In China bats are seen as symbols of good luck and happiness. That's great because that might help them. But ...

... now that the novel coronavirus seems to come from bats ... unthinking people might mistakenly assume that the COVID-19 pandemic was caused by bats. No, it was caused by humans using animals and by humans flying all over the world, and by humans generally being a quite stupid species it seems. And because some people now think that bats are evil, the anthropocentric (speciesist) world view that most of the world's human population seems to share can lead to the next logical step: Something like "If bats are bad and dangerous, let's just kill them all."

In China, many citizens have started to request to ...
  • ... expel bats who are hibernating inside houses or near houses.
  • ... release the caught bats in the wild ... or ...
  • ... slaughter bats en masse.
This could lead to two problems: (1) Many bats will die because disturbing their hibernation can kill them, and (2) they might be hosts of yet more viruses that might then come in contact with humans.

Some city-dwelling bats have been caught and released in the wild - maybe with good intentions. But as Dr Zhao points out, the wild is NOT their native habitat, and releasing city-dwelling bats there can kill them.

Importantly, horseshoe bats - which seem to be the original host of the original bat version of SARS-CoV-2 - do NOT hibernate in cities. They live away from humans. But some humans enter their habitats and take them our of their habitats and bring them into civilization, and this "bringing them" generally involves killing them and cutting them into bits, thereby exposing themselves or surfaces to viruses that might jump the species gap from bats to other humans (directly or indirectly).

As, mentioned above, some people demand that large numbers of bats be slaughtered in order to protect public health. But hibernating bats who are not disturbed by humans do not seem to be a public health problem.

Update 8 April 2020:
Bats can in theory directly infect humans with a large variety of viruses that can be spread through the bat's feces, urine, or saliva (Fagre and Kading 2019).

Bats might be symbols of good luck in China, but the question is if that will be enough to save them. Trying to defend bats, Dr Zhao points out some more positive aspects of bats:
  • Bats are important for ecosystems. --- I would point out: Even if they were not (like humans) their lives have intrinsic value to themselves. They want to live and not be hurt or killed. Their lives belong to themselves, like your life belongs to you.
  • Bats kill insects which would otherwise bother humans. 
  • Bats pollinate many plants and bats disperse the seeds of many plants. --- I think we can all agree that this is quite lovely.
  • Bats - remember this is what Dr Zhao says, not me - can be used for animal experiments to investigate not just the cure of diseases in humans but also ecosystem functioning and evolution. --- I fully support experiments with dead bats that were collected wherever, and with living bats that really don't harm them, like carefully observing them in their habitat. But I strongly disagree with using sentient animals in laboratory experiments or killing them for research.  
I don't know what could convince the Chinese public, or maybe more importantly the Chinese decision-making Führer, to stop the violence against bats (and hopefully other animals). Similarly, I don't have much of a clue what could convince people outside of China to stop the unnecessary violence against animals.

"The need for public education about bats, including their positive and negative impacts, is urgent and vital to their conservation." Dr Huabin Zhao (Wuhan University)

While this statement speak of bats on the species level, it is also true for bats on the individual level. Bats care about their own lives, and maybe their mates' lives, or their bat children's lives, not about species preservation (I'm assuming).

My opinion: The need for public education about (1) the ethical treatment of animals is urgent and important if we don't want to remain in a moral stone age where "might makes right". The need for public education about (2) the irrationality behind the superstitious beliefs in many traditional medicines made from exotic animal parts - from tiger penis to tortured boiled-alive dogs and cats to pangolin scales - is urgent and of utmost importance if we do not want to remain in an intellectual stone age of ghost worship in magic potions. Countless hundreds of thousands (maybe more) of wild animals are killed every year for Traditional Chinese "Medicine". Tens of thousands of pangolins alone are killed every year by poachers - for superstition.

There are more than 1400 species of bats worldwide ... it does not matter to which species a bat belongs (or you belong): Your life is your life and no one else's. As long as you don't harm anyone else, it is your moral right to be free. Nonhuman animals should have this same moral right. Their lives should be their own.

And ... right now is not (and it never is) the time to be a racist. We should support progressive movements in China that stand for human rights and animal rights, equality, non-violence, anti-discrimination, and freedom of speech, ... and science with ethics. And we should support these kind of efforts anywhere.


I don't know what bat species this is.

Bats being removed from an attic (I'm assuming).
Photos (I think, a Shanghai newspaper)

Bats caught and released, probably well-meant, but unnecessary and it could kill many of these bats. Photos (I think, a Beijing newspaper)

I don't know what bat species this is.

For an explanation of what speciesism is, see this excellent article: Oscar Horta: What is speciesism?