The 43 species of bats found in America are rapidly losing ground. People involved in animal welfare are concerned that natural bat habitats, like caves and tree hollows, are being destroyed, pushing bats to seek alternative housing, such as abandoned mines.
While mines might be a good solution because they are often isolated, they are also frequently torn down due to safety concerns. Systematic destruction of natural habitats, coupled with destruction of mines, usually done without regard to animals that might live inside, have helped place bats on the list of endangered species.
A few environmental groups, such as Bat Conservation International (BCI), work to provide abandoned mines with “bat-compatible closures and gates.” Such devices enable bats to come and go from closed mines and keep both humans and animals safe in the process.
BCI says bats need safe places to raise babies, hibernate in winter months, and recover during migration season. When mines are closed without regard to whatever animals might have been living inside, entire bat colonies can die. According to BCI, this would be a tragedy because bats are beneficial to all life. Bats eat tons of insects every day, pollinate plants, and even serve as models that have helped with navigational assistance inventions for the blind.
Opponents disagree and say bats should not be encouraged and protected at the mines, or anywhere, for that matter, mostly because of the fear of rabies. According to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bats are the number one carrier of rabies in humans, a deadly disease the non-bat people stress, for which there is no cure.
Groups like BCI counter with other CDC statistics that show the percentage of wild bats with rabies is only about one half of one percent. They say benefits of protecting bats outweigh the risks. The welfare of bats, and other animals, they say, should be a moral mandate.
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