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Despite Nipah virus scare, Bengal is a safe haven for bats

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Here is a new virus on the block, just like the new movie in town. And yes, this time it is a deadly one. Nipah virus, that originated in Malaysia, has on and off caused scare in India too over the past few decades. Even West Bengal was impacted in 2001, due to Nipah outbreak in Siliguri. This year round however, other than Kerala, this deadly disease that can cause almost 80 per cent mortality, has not spread beyond Kerala. Fruit Bats are said to be carriers of this deadly virus that transmit it to animals like pigs and even to fruits they feed on. Once you eat that infected bat-bitten fruits, you get infected.

Despite this ‘Fruit Bat’ scare, Kolkata and other parts of Bengal have pockets of bat population, who thrive well and are even protected by villagers. At Subhasgram, barely 26 km from Kolkata, around 5,000 bats live on tamarind and mango trees. These bats have been protected by villagers over the years and they still keep a strict vigil, so that bats are not targeted due to the Nipah scare. The neighbourhood has also been named after these mammals as Badurpara. However, the residents of the area are creating awareness drives against eating of fruits that might have been half eaten by bats and have fallen on the ground.  

Not just Badurpara, there is another Bat pocket called Badurtola in Madhyamgram. Many banyan trees in this area are safe haven to almost 2,500 fruit bats. The area has been cordoned off and the residents are keeping strict vigil, so that no one picks up the fallen fruits. Madhyamgram municipality is also coming up with a park surrounding these banyan trees. The area is rich in seasonal fruits that attract these fruit bats in large numbers. But this can have a flip side too, fruits and bats right now are a deadly mix that can lead to a Nipah outbreak any moment. So, the only way to save residents from a possible outbreak is to separate the bats from other animals and from humans. 

A similar scene plays on at Jalpaiguri’s Adarpara, that has several bats living in a ground with a number of Eucalyptus trees. But this place can be scary as pigs often get into these grounds to feed on bat droppings. Well, that’s dangerous and a possible outbreak can happen any moment if Adarpara is not protected with bats and pigs separated.