BAT RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION PROJECT
Promoting Conservation of Bat Species and their Roosting Habitats in Mount Elgon National Park and other protected areas in Uganda
Marburg virus disease is an emerging and highly virulent epidemic-prone disease associated with high case fatality rates (case fatality rate: 23–90%). Marburg virus disease outbreaks are rare. The virus is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected persons or wild animals (e.g. monkeys and fruit bats). Uganda has previous experience in managing recurring viral hemorrhagic fever outbreaks including Marburg virus disease. Cases have historically been reported among miners and travellers who visited caves inhabited by bat colonies in Uganda. Marburg virus disease outbreaks have been documented during:
- 2007 – 4 cases, including 2 deaths in Ibanda District, Western Uganda;
- 2008 – 2 unrelated cases in travellers returning to the Netherlands and USA, respectively after visiting caves in Western Uganda;
- 2012 – 15 cases, including 4 deaths in Ibanda and Kabale districts, Western Uganda; and
- 2014 – 1 case in healthcare professional from Mpigi District, Central Uganda.
HUMAN ACTIVITY IN MOUNT ELGON NATIONAL PARK
Bat populations appear to be declining presumably in response to human induced environmental stresses like habitat destruction and fragmentation, disturbance to caves, depletion of food resources, overhunting for bush meat and persecution, increased use of pesticides, infectious disease. As bats are among the most overlooked in spite of their economic and ecological importance, their conservation is mandatory.
Bats are hosts to a range of zoonotic and potentially zoonotic pathogens. They differ from other disease reservoirs because of their unique and diverse lifestyles, including their ability to fly, often highly gregarious social structures, long life spans, and low fecundity rates .They represent a potential epidemiologic of several diseases that can be fatal to humans, including rabies, Marburg, Ebola, leptospirosis, histoplasmosis, and pseudo tuberculosis
Bats are reservoirs of several pathogens, whose spread may be related to physiological stress associated with habitat loss or alteration . The recent die-offs of bats presenting with white nose syndrome may relate to increased levels of environmental stress that render them to be susceptible to fungal infection and viral infections like Henipaviruses, European bat lyssaviruses, rabies, and Ebola virus
MOUNT ELGON REGION
On 17 October 2017, the Ugandan Ministry of Health notified WHO of a confirmed outbreak of Marburg virus disease in Kween District bordering in Mount Elgon National Park Eastern Uganda. The Ministry for Health officially declared the outbreak on 19 October 2017. As of 24 October, five cases had been reported – one confirmed case, one probable case with an epidemiological link to the confirmed case, and three suspected cases including two health workers.Chronologically, the first case-patient (probable case) reported was a male in his 30s, who worked as a game hunter and lived near a cave with a heavy presence of bats. On 20 September, he was admitted to a local health centre with high fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, and did not respond to antimalarial treatment. As his condition deteriorated, he was transferred to the referral hospital in the neighbouring district, where he died the same day. No samples were collected. He was given a traditional burial, which was attended by an estimated 200 people. The sister (confirmed case) of the first case-patient nursed him and participated in the burial rituals. She became ill and was admitted to the same health centre on 5 October 2017 with fever and bleeding manifestations. She was subsequently transferred to the same referral hospital, where she died. She was given a traditional burial. Posthumous samples were collected and sent to the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI). On 17 October, Marburg virus infection was confirmed at Uganda Virus Research Institute by RT-PCR and it was immediately notified to the Ministry of Health.The third case-patient (suspected case) is the brother of the first two cases. He assisted in the transport of his sister to the hospital, and subsequently became symptomatic. He refused to be admitted to hospital, and returned to the community. His whereabouts were by then not known though there was an ongoing effort to find him. Two health workers who were in contact with the confirmed case had developed symptoms consistent with Marburg virus disease and are under investigation (suspected cases). Laboratory results to rule out Marburg virus disease are pending. Contact tracing and follow-up activities have been initiated. As of 23 October, 155 contacts including 66 who had contact with the first case and 89 who had contact with the second case-patient have been listed in the two affected districts, including 44 health care workers. The number of family and community contacts is still being investigated
The project will be concerned with promoting bat species conservation and the roosting habitat in Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda we do mapping of the roosting sites to aid in establishing bat conservation and environmental protection strategies in Mount Elgon National Park and Other Protected areas in Uganda.
Our research project in Uganda aims to document the important roles bats play, generate missing information and quantify the ecosystem services. We will study both insectivorous bats and fruit bats, collecting fecal samples to identify the role they play in seed dispersal and pest control. We will then focus on the most abundant species of bat in Uganda, the Straw-Coloured fruit bat (Eidolon helvum) and conduct monthly counts to estimate the number of individuals and colonies. We also collect data to better understand their movement patterns, ecology, roost preferences and give information about which habitats need to be protected. We hope to learn more about the bats of Uganda better and engage local communities to join us in protecting the endangered bat species in Uganda
Our activities include education and community outreach programs, sensitizing all relevant stakeholders like local tourism personnel, environmental personnel and local schools, government tourism and environment personnel on the importance of bat conservation and protection of their ecological habitats
Once we know more about bats in Uganda, we will use this information to design relevant conservation actions and measures. People often fear or are not aware of the importance of bats and their roles within the ecosystems. This project aims to raise awareness and educate people about the important role of bats and the need for their protection.
We plan to launch an additional media campaign, engage children in schools nearby key sites where bats are known to roost and set up Local Site Support Groups where members will be trained in basic data collection and monitoring techniques which is essential for longer term project monitoring and sustainability.be
Raising awareness of the risk factors for Marburg infection and the protective measures individuals can take to reduce human exposure to the virus, are the key measures to reduce human infections and deaths. Key public health communication messages aimed atto the loss of foraging habitats and roosts ma
- Reducing the risk of bat-to-human transmission arising from prolonged exposure to mines or caves inhabited by fruit bats colonies. During work or research activities or tourist visits in mines or caves inhabited by fruit bat colonies, people should wear gloves and other appropriate protective clothing (including masks).
- Ensuring that the population is well informed, both about the nature of the disease itself to avoid community stigmatization, and encourage early presentation to treatment centres and other necessary outbreak containment measures, including burial of the dead. People who have died from Marburg should be promptly and safely buried
WHY BATS AND CONSERVATION
Bats provide us with crucial ecosystem services and have an important role as seed dispersers, pest controllers, and pollinators, yet a quarter of all global bat species are known to be threatened due to the loss of foraging habitats and roosts mainly caused by human activities. Despite the rich biodiversity of bat species, they are the least studied when compared to other mammals.
Bats have great advantage and disadvantage in economic terms. The economic benefits obtained from bats include biological pest control, plant pollination, seed dispersal, guano mining, bush meat and medicine, aesthetic and bat watching tourism, and education and research. Even though bats are among gentle animals providing many positive ecological and economic benefits, few species have negative effects. They cause damage on human, livestock, agricultural crops, building, and infrastructure. They also cause airplane strike, disease transmission, and contamination, and bite humans during self-defense.
1 UGANDA WILDLIFE AUTHORITY-
2, BAT CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL- http://www.batcon.org/
Bat Conservation International is an international non-governmental organization working to conserve the world’s bats and their habitats through conservation, education and research efforts