Bats face checks over virus fears
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation plans to screen cave bats amid health concerns after the creatures might be linked to the outbreak of the deadly Wuhan coronavirus in China.
The epidemic has already claimed more than 130 lives in China and infected over 6,000 people around the world, including 14 in Thailand.
Chongklai Voraphongston, deputy director-general of the department, told the media on Wednesday that the department's scientists will monitor all caves with bats in national parks.
The study will be joined by well-known Thai researcher, Supaporn Watcharaprueksadee, deputy-director at the Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases of Thailand, Chulalongkorn University.
Earlier, Ms Supaporn's team detected a coronavirus strain in Horseshoe bats in Thailand.
Ms Supaporn and official park researchers plan to research 23 new viruses found in national parks across the country.
Mr Chongklai, however, played down the health risks associated with bats in caves.
"Tourists come just to watch them ... not consume them for food and that minimises the risk," he said, adding that the department will also keep an eye on the health of Chinese tourists who visit the caves.
Bats are classified as protected wildlife under Thai law and there is a ban on hunting them. Yet, bats have been illegally exported to China to be eaten as delicacies and their dung has also been used locally to make fertiliser.
Ratchaburi has the highest number of bats with millions inhabiting caves in the province.
Singha Sitthikul, a village chief in Photharam district, told reporters that locals used to eat raw bat meat but did not suffer any health problems.
Scientists suspect that the Wuhan coronavirus spread from bats to snakes and, eventually, to humans. Outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) in the past were also thought to have been spread by bats.