Cheryl YIP Yi Xiu, Bachelor of Environmental Studies student – AY 2017/2018
Knowledge of and attitudes toward bats in Singapore
Negative attitudes toward bats are hardly unusual. Indeed, bats are reviled in various societies, including in Singapore (SG), where they are among the most common animals that residents complain about to government agencies. To some extent, this may reflect fears related to disease transmission. After all, bats are natural reservoirs of some serious emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), and there’s evidence that some fears and negative attitudes toward animals are grounded in our evolutionary history, which predisposes us to avoid or fear animals that may harm us.
But the real risk of disease transmission from bats to humans is super low. Most people never come into contact with bats, and disease prevalence in bat populations is usually low. Besides, many EID pathogens, such as the coronaviruses that cause SARS, MERS and COVID-19, didn’t move from bats directly to humans, but rather infected intermediate hosts first. A more important cause of general malignment of bats is likely how they are represented by the media, their association with evil and persistent myths about them.
Well, that’s a problem. I mean, of all orders of mammals, bats are among the most diverse and are the most ecologically important (see this blog post). Yet they also remain poorly understood and face high rates of endangerment (see this blog post), especially in SE Asia. Plus, while bats do receive some legal protection in certain jurisdictions, that’s not the case in most regions, including SE Asia.
Clearly, societies and governments aren’t prioritising the protection of bats – maybe due to widespread negative views. That’s why many bat specialists do outreach. But, while outreach aims to raise support for bat conservation, for it to be effective, we must understand what our target audience knows and feels about bats and address issues in culturally-appropriate ways.