The influence of bats on Uganda
Uganda’s wildlife in its uniqueness and diversity gives her a natural beauty and pride that nothing can replace. Among the multiplicity of fauna that she possesses is the distinctive mammal –the bat and suffice to mention is that it has been of great influence to the country’s ecosystem and culture.
According to research, the unique mammals belong to the second largest order of mammals, coming after the rodents. This simply implies that their number really is big; which is partly responsible for their prevalence in Uganda, existing in several species.
Some very popular places in the country have been named after bats such as: Bat Valley Theatre and Bat Valley Primary School, among others, so this certainly says something about the commonness of bats within.
Bats belong to the Chiroptera order of scientific classification, also divided into two suborders megachiroptera (megabats) and microciroptera (microbats). They are nocturnal meaning they are most active at night and spend their day hibernating. Their nocturnal lives are eased by the fact that they have good night vision especially among megabats. During cold weather conditions, this hibernation can even go up to six months.
The most peculiar fact about bats is that they are the only mammals capable of natural fight, owing this to their possession of webbed wings and very flexible forelimbs that are adapted to flight, not to mention their body weight which is relatively low. They also have a great ability of hanging upside-down under tree branches.
Bats can be found almost anywhere, from forests to streets, as well as residential houses largely depending on their lifestyle and specifically the feeding habits. A study shows that the foraging (feeding) patterns of bats are influenced by the vegetation structure. While 70% of all bat species are insectivorous, of the remaining 30%; the bigger percentage are fruit eaters while the other feed on blood and the latter are sometimes referred to as vampire bats.
In Uganda, the common classes of bats are the fruit eaters and insectivores. While the fruit-eating bats are best adapted to living in forested areas and sometimes caves, the trees shouldn’t be so dense, as they can hinder their flight as they have quite big wings. On the other hand, insect-eaters are well modified for savanna grassland and woodland regions for this is where they can easily catch their dinner.
Bats are incredibly social animals that roost and fly in exceptionally large communities, having a very elaborate form of communication and interaction. Many a time, they converse in form of vocalizations powered by echoes mostly exhibited by the male species during courtship period. This in scientific terms is referred to as Pipistrellus pipistrellus and in this; the echoes are followed by multi-vocal pulses resulting into a social call.
Like many wild animals, bats are usually dreaded by people not only because of how they look or for being nuisances, but also owing to the fact that they are supposed to carry disease-causing germs (pathogens) for instance: Marburg, Ebola and rabies. Also, due to their furry bodies, they have been said to carry parasites like fleas and lice.
On the other hand, these animals are equally important to the ecosystem, aiding in natural processes like pollination, seed dispersal and insect control for the case of the insectivores.
For this reason, there is a big need to conserve the bat communities within the country. In doing this, care has to be taken so that they cause no harm through the spread of disease as already noted. Proper maintenance of the plant cover, that is the forests and grasslands, is vital in safeguarding the natural habitats of the bats which is well, a double benefit after all!
By Enid Karen Nabumati