Countering Pandemic Disease Threat Claims, BAT FLASH! Mongabay.com, 5/8/2016

Asian wrinkle-lipped bats (Chaerephon plicatus) emerging from Tarum Cave (entrance # 2) in Cambodia. Emergence
Asian wrinkle-lipped bats (Chaerephon plicatus) emerging from Tarum Cave in Cambodia.

Objective Achieved–No need for further action. 

Thanks to Bat Fan participation, we are now collaborating with the editor of Mongabay on a positive story putting exagerations about disease in perspective. May 24, 2016 

We are calling you to action!

We have emailed Merlin’s response and posted it as a comment to an April 27 story on Mongabay.com that perpetuates harmful misrepresentations of bats as dangerous sources of dread diseases. Please help us put an end to such misrepresentations by adding your voice.

Contact Becky, the editor of Mongabay.com at editor@mongabay.com, and share both your congratulations on positive bat stories of the past (i.e. http://rainforests.mongabay.com/0409.htm) and your complaint regarding this apparently well intended story that will do more harm than good by creating unwarranted fear of bats.

 

 

Merlin’s Comments Submitted via Email
May 8, 2016

I applaud your goal of raising interest and appreciation of nature and wildlife and appreciate your past articles promoting the conservation of bats. Nevertheless, I unfortunately must point out that your story of April 27, titled Bat mortality no longer sustainable, by Lina Tran, is likely to foster an opposite result. Her story was based on a paper published in Mammal Review that documented the alarming decline of bats and the need for education and conservation. Nevertheless subsequently added statements, attributed to Raina Plowright, appear to have reversed the intended purpose of the original paper…

This has needlessly contributed to irrational fear of bats by claiming them to be exceptionally dangerous reservoirs of “some of the world’s most dangerous viruses.” As one who has led bat conservation efforts worldwide for decades, it has been my consistent experience that associating bats with scary diseases such as rabies and Ebola, while failing to put concerns in perspective, is one of the most frequent causes of intolerance and mass killing. People simply don’t protect what they fear, regardless of what else we say.

It is true that most human rabies deaths in America come from bats. However, put in perspective, that is just 1-2 annually compared to 20-40 deaths from dog attacks. Worldwide 99% of human rabies comes from dogs. In fact, the annual human death rate from dog-transmitted rabies alone dwarfs the mortality caused by all the so-called “emerging” diseases combined over the past four decades. Amazingly, we still see warnings about dangers from bats while considering dogs safe!

Those who profit most from human fear of bats have long speculated bats to be the source for Ebola, despite scientific evidence to the contrary (See our exaggerated disease warning resource page). Merely saying bats are valuable has not prevented the killing of whole colonies ((EMBO Molecular Med. 7/1/2015:19).

 

 

Email response from Mongabay Editor

May 9, 2016

Dear Merlin,
Thanks for your message and concern. We agree that bats are often unfairly demonized by society.
The article you reference covers a paper published in Mammal Review, a scientific journal. The paper, which reviews a large body of scientific literature on global bat mortality, makes reference to disease transmission.
Since our article is a summary of the paper with comments from the authors, your best course of action is to raise the issue with the authors themselves.
If you are interested in seeing more of our reporting on bats, please visit our bat feed at https://news.mongabay.com/list/bats/
Best regards,
Rebecca Kessler
Editor
Mongabay
Merlin’s Email Response to Mongabay Editor
May 9, 2016

Dear Becky,

Thank you for your prompt response to my concern regarding the April 27 article on bats. I have carefully read and reread the entire publication as it appeared in Mammal Review and cannot find a single thing to complain about.  The only references to disease are in context of the extreme rarity of disease epidemics as a cause of bat mortality.

I admire and appreciate most of what you and your staff have presented in previous stories about bats and do not attribute any ill intent to your writer for having been misled. Nevertheless, those of us who care about bat conservation cannot ignore your writer’s added statements attributed to a separate interview.  Unfortunately, those claims are exceptionally harmful because they were published in an otherwise credible, conservation-oriented publication.

Without any admission that disease transmission from bats to humans is exceedingly rare (and ignoring recent research on Ebola), we find four needlessly scary paragraphs, beginning with “As bat populations fall, their roles as reservoir species—animals that host a pathogen without experiencing disease symptoms—are also of great concern. Some of the world’s most dangerous viruses run through bats’ veins including rabies, Ebola and SARS.” She further states that “Bat and human health are closely linked” and warns that “This is a complex phenomenon that can endanger global security.”

No one making such claims has ever been able to explain the fact that hundreds of thousands of bats have long histories of living in major cities without a single known instance of their causing an important disease outbreak in people.  Even the countless thousands of people who eat bats cannot be shown to suffer ill effects. Based on decades of past experience, much of it personal, this speculation about bats certainly doesn’t sound like a major threat to global security.  For anyone who simply doesn’t handle bats, the odds of harm from a bat are incalculably small.

I would be happy to assist you with an article putting bats and disease issues in perspective. Please let me know if I can help..

Best wishes,

Merlin

 

Email Response from Mongabay Editor

May 11, 2016

Dear Merlin,

Thank you for your note and persistence—and that of your “Bat Fans,” as well.

It took a little time, but our staff connected with our writer, reviewed her sources, and ultimately concluded that indeed the story did overstate the documented threat bats pose in terms of disease transmission to people. We have posted a corrected version to the story with a note acknowledging your role bringing the error to light.

We are also considering future coverage of bats’ role in disease transmission, as per your suggestion.

All the best,

Becky

 

Merlin’s Email Response to Mongabay Editor 

May 11, 2016

Dear Becky,

Thank you so much for your patience and for taking the time required to check the facts and make changes. I am most appreciative and would be delighted to assist you if you decide to do a story putting disease in bats in perspective.
For the record, there are several recently published scientific papers casting serious doubt on bats being the source for Ebola, and I can’t imagine that any up-to-date virologist would claim that a source for Ebola has been documented. Frequent repetition of speculation, unsupported by credible science, has simply led to common acceptance as fact.

Kindest regards,

Merlin

 

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