Megabats tracked with GPS to Learn How They Transfer Diseases to Humans

31 Oct 2018

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute recognizes the invaluable role Myanmar Flying Foxes play in the overall ecosystem’s health, but they also understand how the creature is often the culprit in spreading fatal diseases to humans. In an effort to learn more about these animals, the institute sent Dr. Marc Valitutto and Dr. Jennifer Kishbaugh out to Myanmar with one goal. The duo was tasked with capturing several bats, extracting samples from the animals, testing for viruses and then tagging the bats with GPS tracking devices.

Experts hope to monitor the movements of these Myanmar Flying Foxes to gain deeper insights into how the animal interacts with its environment. Data from the GPS tracking devices will be used to help protect both the animals and humans who live around them. The group hopes to work closely with local communities to discover safe areas for bats to roost that can also help prevent the spread of diseases.

About Flying Foxes

Flying Foxes are beneficial to the ecosystem because they assist in pollinating fruits and spreading seeds necessary for agricultural growth. These adorable ‘fox bats’ are the biggest of the 65 bat species found in the area, and they commonly feed on fruit, plants and insects.

They are often found in large numbers and remain largely nocturnal. These incredible creatures are the only mammals that can sustain long-powered flights. Their iconic upside-down sleeping habits are intentional. The bats need to drop from a height in order to take flight because they can’t take off from a standing position.

Flying foxes have long life spans and produce only about one offspring per year. Some farmers consider these pack animals pests, so they are often hunted or killed. Additionally, bats are known to spread diseases that can cause rabies or other infections.

Despite this, millions of individuals consume the animal as bushmeat. In India, the fat of flying foxes is used medicinally to treat rheumatism. These factors make the species more vulnerable to depopulation and extinction. At least six other types of flying fox species have recently gone extinct.

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