Till several years ago, the Kolar Leaf-Nosed Bat was found in only two caves in the village of Hanumanahalli in Kolar district of Karnataka. For reasons that are still unknown, the bat became locally extinct in one of the two caves. And now, the Karnataka Forest Department, along with the Bat Conservation India Trust (BCIT), is on a war footing to save the remaining bats, which are endemic to the area, from extinction.
The BCIT, which has been entrusted with drawing up a conservation plan, has also been awarded a grant to conduct further research on this species of bats. It has received funding from the Habitats Trust to carry out the project.
Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests in the Karnataka Government, Vijay Mohan Raj, says that it was in 2014, after a study conducted by Osmania University, that the state government first came to know of the bats becoming extinct in one of the caves. The government immediately notified the 30 acres around the caves as protected area.
“The Kolar Leaf-Nosed Bat is exclusive to Karnataka and we are very proud of this fact. There has been a lot of focus on the conservation of larger animals like the tiger, but in Karnataka, we have consistently chosen smaller, lesser-known species and made them flagship species for conservation and created awareness around them,’’ said Raj, adding that with the area being notified, any development work here, including construction of new infrastructure, will need the permission of the National Board for Wildlife.
“We know very little about this bat – what ecology it thrives in, what its diet is, its behaviour and what would happen to it if the cropping pattern changes in the area in which it resides,’’ he added.
“Bats are one of the least studied mammals in the country, though there are 130 species in India. They are very adaptable creatures and therefore can often be found near human habitation or even in urban settlements, which makes them vulnerable. They also have a bad image in the public eye, as carriers of diseases. But the truth is, bats are absolutely vital for the ecology as they are pollinators, their main diet being nectar. The plants that bloom at night are entirely dependent on bats and moths for pollination. Bats also help in insect control and therefore, help in the protection of crops,’’ said Rajesh Puttaswamaiah of the BCIT.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, and the unverified association with bats, there have been incidents in the Western Ghats and in states such as Rajasthan and Odisha, where bats have been attacked or killed.
There are five species of bats that live in the caves of Hanumanahalli, of which the Kolar Leaf-Nosed Bat is just one. According to recent estimates, there are just 150 Kolar Leaf-Nosed Bats left in these caves.
“There has been very little on-ground monitoring happening so far. We have started a detailed study of these bats. Apart from the caves themselves and the nearby areas, we have to identify and conserve the bats’ foraging area. We are running an intensive awareness campaign in the nearby communities and they have come to understand the threat to the species and have started guarding this area from encroachers,’’ he adds.