UNEP/EUROBATS

Response to recent accusation of bats as sources of EBOLA

EUROBATS Secretariat feels appropriate to publish following statement of the leading bat experts:

 

ELUSIVE EBOLA

 

by MB Fenton1, Rodrigo A. Medellin2, Ricardo Moratelli3, Paul A. Racey4, Nancy B. Simmons5 and Merlin D. Tuttle6

 

            Habitat loss and destruction, two consequences of human population growth, threaten the survival of other species.  Ironically, these factors often expose humans to diseases from other animals (zoonoses). Ebola is a prime example, recently killing over 11,000 people in West Africa (1). Bats have been repeatedly speculated to be reservoir hosts of Ebola (2)

            Despite this focus on bats, Kupferschmidt (1) correctly reported that Ebola virus has never been isolated from a bat. Circulating RNA indicative of active Ebola infection has also never been found in a bat.  Some bats have antibodies to Ebola, but this does not identify them as the reservoir hosts. Other mammals, perhaps Great Apes, have recently been identified as possible reservoirs (3).  Despite this uncertainty, the possibility that bats might be the reservoir for Ebola has cast an ominous shadow over efforts to conserve them.  If bats were the reservoir for Ebola, their protection could be said to jeopardize more popular species such as gorillas, which may also die of Ebola (1,3). 

            Interactions with wildlife kill many more people than Ebola. Annually, over 100,000 people die from bites by venomous snakes and nearly 59,000 people die from dog rabies (5).  In our efforts to protect humans, we must avoid over-emphasizing data that needlessly create alarm – like the presence of Ebola antibodies in some bats – which can have significant negative impact on these essential animals that may be innocent bystanders. Human population increase will likely continue unabated until at least 2100 (6). Therefore it is critical that decisions about research efforts, control measures, and conservation be informed by documented facts, not supposition.

        

1Department of Biology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario N6A 5B7 Canada           

2 Instituto de Ecología, UNAM, Ap. Postal 70-275, 04510 Ciudad Universitaria, D. F., MEXICO

3 Fiocruz Mata Atlântica, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, CEP 22713-375 Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil

4 Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK
5 American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024.    

6 Founder and Executive Director, Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation

 

References

1.     K. Kupferschmidt. Science 356.901 (2017).  

2.     G. Vogel. Science 344.140 (2016).

3.     S.A. Leendertz, J.F. Gogarten, A. Düx, S. Calvignac-Spencer and F.H. Leendertz. EcoHealth 13. 18 (2016).

4.     C. Arnold. Nature, 537. 26 (2016).

5.     5. E. Stokstad. Science 355. 238 (2017).

6.     P. Gerland, P., A.E. Raftery, H. Ševčíková, N. Li, D. Gu, T. Spoorenberg, L. Alkema, B.K. Fosdick, J. Chunn, N. Lalic, G. Bay, T. Buettner, G.K. Heilig, J. Wilmoth. Science 346. 234 (2014).

This site is maintained by the UNEP/EUROBATS Secretariat. © 2015 UNEP/EUROBATS UNEP EUROBATS