As the coronavirus outbreak continues to grow, misinformation in the form of fake news, rumors, and gossip have continued to feed mass hysteria and panic over the deadly disease.
In Peru, this has resulted in locals attempting to fight CoViD-19 by attacking communities of bats despite the fact that the novel virus still hasn’t been decisively proven to have originated from the winged creature.
On Wednesday, the Peruvian government issued a statement warning residents to stop killing bats after authorities were forced to intervene when roughly half a thousand of the flying mammals came under attack by gangs of peasants hoping to exterminate what they believed were carriers of the disease, reports Peruvian network América Noticias.
Roughly 300 of the creatures were killed in the arson attacks that took place in the small village of Culden, which lies in the Cajamarca region, after mobs attacked the caves where the bat communities dwelled, Peru’s National Service of Wild Forests and Fauna (SERFOR) announced.
About 200 bats were saved from the torch-bearing gangs by members of the wildlife service and National Agrarian Health Service (SENASA) who later released the animals into a distant cave far from Culden.
[Cajamarca]Personal del @serforperu del @minagriperu, y municipalidad provincial liberan en una cueva alejada de la población a 200 murciélagos rescatados del ataque de la población en un caserío en Catache. ¡Los murciélagos son aliados en la conservación de nuestros bosques!🌱🦇 pic.twitter.com/yt4P5Ca39S— Serfor Perú (@SerforPeru) March 25, 2020
AFP reports that in a statement, SERFOR said:
“We must not distort the situation due to the pandemic. Bats are not our enemies.”
Continuing, the wildlife agency explained that the bats are actually quite beneficial to humans and are even helping to combat deadly viruses including dengue. Dengue fever outbreaks in Southeast Asia and the Americas have continued unabated while the world’s attention has been fixed on containing the CoViD-19 pandemic.
“70 percent of the [bat] species in the world feed off insects, many of which are harmful to agriculture and our health, like mosquitoes that spread dengue and other diseases”.
Jessica Galvez-Durand, head of wild fauna operations at SERFOR, also used the opportunity to remind Peruvians that they should abstain from eating wild animals or using their flesh for medicinal purposes.
Exotic species are famously seen as delicacies in some Asian and Pacific Island nations due to the often unproven medicinal benefits of eating the wild creatures or because the consumption of exotic and even live animals is seen as a symbol of social status.
However, the misconception that soup made from bat meat is some popular menu item throughout China—and that bat soup is “responsible” for the coronavirus outbreak originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan—has been thoroughly debunked as misinformation that spread through viral fake news stories and social media posts.
Some scientists do believe that the virus may have originated in bat microbes but transformed into deadly human pathogens through an intermediary animal, such as pangolins, whose meat is sometimes used in traditional medicine.
So far, there have been over 400 confirmed CoViD-19 infections and at least nine deaths from the novel virus in Peru.