A team of researchers and wildlife officials has captured more than 100 crowned bats from a cave in Chanthaburi's Pong Nam Ron district for research into the Covid-19 pandemic.
The hunt for the crowned bats in the eastern province follows reports the strain of the coronavirus which has caused the pandemic is linked to the one found in crowned bats. According to Thai researchers, this is the first time the crowned bats have been captured for a study.
Among the team members are Supaporn Watcharaprueksadee, deputy-director at the Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases of Thailand, Chulalongkorn University, veterinarian Pattharaphol Manee-on, and Pratheep Duangkhae, a forestry expert from the Kasetsart University.
Joined by park rangers from Khao Soi Dao wildlife sanctuary and troops from the 544th marines company, the team entered the Sado cave in tambon Thapsai on Thursday and set up nets to catch the bats.
More than 100 were captured in the hunt from 6pm to 3am. Samples of blood, saliva and droppings were collected for tests to determine if the bats carry the coronavirus.
Dr Supaporn, whose team detected the coronavirus strain in horseshoe bats in Thailand, said the study was prompted by several reports.
She said there are 23 species of crowned bats in Thailand and this is the first time they have been captured for systematic research.
"We've carried out research on bats and the diseases associated with them for almost 20 years, but we have never studied the crowned bats until now," she said.
Dr Supaporn said it might be possible to find the novel coronavirus in the crowned bats in Thailand, and if the virus is detected, studies will be expanded.
She expressed concerns about people who eat bat meat or come into close contact with bats without protection, saying they are being exposed to the risk of being infected.
Mr Pattharaphol echoed her concerns, saying local communities, especially those living close to bat habitats, will be educated about the risks of being infected by the creatures.
He added that researchers were also studying the migration routes of crowned bats, which may hold the key to preventing a new Covid-19 outbreak. "However, the easiest way to protect ourselves from the diseases is not hunting wild animals and to learn to co-exist with them," he said. "If we can do that, they can't transmit the diseases to humans."