Saving the Hildegarde’s tomb bat from local persecution due to its association with the Covid-19 pandemic

Josephine Linet Ambaisi

The Hildergarde’s tomb bat (Taphozous hildegardeae) is a species of sac-winged bat found within rangelands in the Kenyan coastal area, feeding in tropical dry forests and roosting in caves categorized as UNESCO cultural and educational sites (McWilliam and Happold 2013). The species is diurnal and is classified by the IUCN as Endangered. Numbers have been declining as the species faces environmental degradation and climate change. Recent studies have indicated that, with the onset of Covid-19, local communities are closing caves, and evicting and killing bats due to the misplaced fear that bats are sources of the virus that causes COVID-19 and that they are spreading the disease. This poses a great threat to the species, which are useful in pollination, suppression of pests and seed dispersal, among other ecological benefits.

It is against this background that we have come up with the idea to enhance the conservation of the species through engagement with communities and schools in the roosting caves of coastal Kenya. The project will involve scientific research, environmental education and innovation technology. The project aims to improve the conservation status of the bats and their roosts by increasing the number of bats and new roosts in the conservation sites.