From one park to the other, we continue our journey in Costa Rica, still fascinated by the impressive diversity of plants and animals in this small country barely larger than Switzerland. We met Vino De Backer, a biologist specialized in bats, in Monteverde, an area of cloud forest in the northern part of Costa Rica.
Vino De Backer received us in his sanctuary dedicated to these unloved creatures, The Bat Jungle. Before the interview, we could see closely several species of bats and learn a lot about them.
Vino de Backer, who is originally from Belgium, did not want to follow the usual path of biologists and spend the rest of his life working in laboratories. That is why he decided to see the world and discover other possibilities. After one year of backpacking in Central America, he found his own path and met Richard Laval, a renowned bats specialist who became his mentor. It was also in this country where he found love so this and the bat project combined, were enough to bind him definitively to Costa Rica.
Now, 15 years later, he told us his story and the special interest of Monteverde to him. In this region there are 75 species of bats, far more than the 52 species known throughout Europe. This represents a unique source of information. As a bats specialist, it is not hard to find happiness here.
Among other activities, he regularly monitors the bat population in the area by capturing them. For this purpose he uses nets located in the main path followed by the bats. He identifies the species and the sex, then releases them. Thanks to this monitoring, he can compare the number of bats during the years and it shows a significant decline in certain bat populations.
If the number of bats decreases, human health can also be threatened. Most species of bats eat insects. A bat will eat up to 1000 insects that have the size of a mosquito in an hour, one million each year. With the decline of bat populations a significant increase in the number of mosquitoes can be observed … and mosquitos kill almost 1 million people every year by transmitting malaria or other diseases such as Chikungunya or newcomer virus Zika. But people are afraid of bats … why is no one afraid of mosquitoes?
An important part of the work of Vino De Backer is to educate the public and even biologists about the importance of bats. Indeed, bats drinking blood in Dracula and Edward Cullen in Twilight did not help to give these animals a good reputation.
In The Bat Jungle there is no Batman but a super hero fighting Hollywood myths.
In real life, bats are essential for reforestation. Some species are fructivorous, they eat a large amount of fruits and will spread the seeds in the environment far more efficiently than birds. Besides, guano is one of the best soil fertilizers we know. Notice to people interested in permaculture or in natural gardening…
One of the interests of traveling is to acquire knowledge about the world around us. And if this knowledge is directly applicable to our homes, it is even better. We learned that we can help to protect bats by installing a bat house. This is a clever idea to get a natural protection from mosquitoes,and to obtain a natural fertilizer. Some people install them also to protect their crops from harmful insects or simply for the love of biodiversity.
- Bats are not flying mice and are not even related to rodents. They are placed in a one dedicaced group „chiroptera” and are surprisingly related to primates.
- You have almost no chance to get rabies from bats. Dogs are the main source of human rabies deaths, contributing up to 99% of all rabies transmissions to humans.
- Bats are eaten in some countries like Indonesia, Thailand or Vietnam.