The reputation of bats precede themselves. Over the years, they have been associated with many different things, with an overwhelming majority of these associations being not just negative, but grossly sensationalised.
Vampires, Halloween and Witchcraft?
The association of bats with vampires started in the 16th century when vampire bats were seen feeding on the blood of cattle. This association was further solidified when Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) depicted vampires shapeshifting into bats. Since then, bats haven’t been able to escape association with the mythical blood-sucking figure. This is despite the fact that only three out of more than a thousand species of bats feed on blood and only a tablespoon at a time.
Unfortunately for bats, they have also somehow ended up being associated with witchcraft. While the origins of this isn’t perfectly clear, it is suspected that this link stemmed from beliefs that witches worshipped horned figures with wings who supposedly resembled bats.
With the growing popularity of Halloween, it’s unlikely that bats will be able to shake off this association anytime soon.
“Stay away! They have rabies!”
Being carriers of diseases is perhaps one of the most damaging stereotypes when it comes to bat conservation. Contrary to popular belief, not all bats have rabies. In fact, less than 1% of all bats worldwide actually have rabies.
The concern over bats being disease carriers is not unfounded. Bats are known to be a carrier for many kinds of viruses, some of which can be deadly. This includes the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Ebola virus. However, statistics on these are often extremely exaggerated and do not represent the actual scale of the problem.
While it is true that bats are latent hosts to various viruses that can affect humankind, it should not be forgotten that bats are an essential part of the ecosystem and serve many vital roles. The awareness of bats as disease carriers just means that more care has to be taken when it comes to managing and caring for the bat population.
The Dangers of Reputation
The primary and secondary biases of humans when it comes to risk perception makes the negative stereotypes surrounding bats extremely detrimental to conservation efforts. Primary bias refers to the tendency for people to overestimate low probability events and underestimate high probability events. Meanwhile, secondary bias refers to the exaggeration of sensational and dramatic forms of death. As a result, we perceive the risk of contracting diseases like rabies from bats much more likely than say, contracting it from a dog. (Statistically, there is a higher chance of individuals contracting rabies from dogs than bats).
Moreover, the media often portrays bats in a negative light. The sensationalising and exaggeration of the negative traits of bats in the media over the years have built an atmosphere of fear and distrust towards bats that can be extremely detrimental to conservation efforts.