They are feared by humans and considered to be ugly, useless and troublesome animals. But their importance in the environment is only known to those who have studied their behaviour patterns and work towards their protection.

Bats are the largest group of mammals in Sri Lanka but are one of the least studied species. However, Prof. Wipula Bandara Yapa's book A Field Guide to the Bats of Sri Lanka will enlighten people on why bats should be protected in the environment as they are important pollinators. This is the first book on bats published in the country and includes all 30 species.

Relating his first encounter with bats Prof. Yapa said he had no intention of studying bats. "Bats are viewed with superstition, scepticism and are often considered to be evil. People fear them. In my home town Badulla there was a large bat colony which was a nuisance to many locals. But when the head of the Department of Zoology, University of Colombo, the late Prof. H.H. Costa asked me to join a visiting German research team with Prof. Rudolf Rubsamen in 1986 to study cave dwelling bats, I was curious and excited to see what they would be doing but was still not interested. However, after my first visit to the Wavul Galge cave, with fascination I watched the out flight of 1,000 of bats leaving the cave one after the other and disappearing into the darkness," Prof. Yapa explained. He added that Prof. Rubsamen started catching bats using a hand net and taught him how to handle a bat without being bitten. "I was surprised to see how aggressive these little creatures were. At first all the bats looked alike to me but soon I learnt to differentiate them. The journey inside the cave was arduous yet quite captivating. I was amazed by the sheer size of the cave and the prevailing absolute darkness which nobody would ever experience outside. According to research I found out that bats consume over 50 kgs of insects on one night," Prof. Yapa said.

He added that bats are slow breeders and except for a very few species give birth to a single young. "Thousands of bats die due to rapid spread of infectious diseases and are considered to be one of the most threatened groups of mammals. Several species are already extinct and many other species are critically threatened. Habitat destruction mainly due to deforestation has become a primary cause for the decline of bats. One of the major threats to insectivorous bats is the excessive use of pesticides. The biggest threat to bats is from humans. Humans often harm bats out of ignorance and without realizing how important they are to our well being. Bats are beneficial to us and support our survival in many ways. But bats are decreasing rapidly and need to be protected," Prof. Yapa said.

Prof. Yapa's book was published by Dilmah Conservation - an organization that works towards environmental protection. As a villager from Palansena, Kochchikade I was quite fortunate to have spent my childhood surrounded by an environment that was spilling with bio diversity. There always seemed to be a new animal that would find its way into our garden, which was a haven for local wildlife as it always had a seemingly endless supply of fruit for them to feast on. However, this also meant that there would be half eaten fruits lying around the garden ground, left behind by one of the visitors; large fruit bats," Founder Dilmah Conservation Merrill J. Fernando said.

He added that with many years having passed since then and the number of trees being cut down to accommodate the ever growing human population, greatly increasing sightings of these 'flying mammals' in home gardens have now lessened.

"A Field Guide to the Bats of Sri Lanka is a well worth addition to the Dilmah Field Guide series which intends to create awareness on the importance of conserving the various species of Fauna and Flora. I am profoundly thankful to my son Dilhan for initiating this knowledge disseminating series. I also thank and congratulate Prof. Yapa for partnering with us and for his outstanding work in writing the book.

I sincerely hope this publication will help the younger generation to have a better understanding of the importance of this well known but less well understood species and will help in their conservation," Fernando said.

Please click here to read the original article published in Ceylon Today

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