We have lived with bats for 20 years. Siding bats we call them as they find shelter in the uneven gaps in the wood siding that covers our house. These little brown bats are seasonal visitors who provide a service to us by eating flying insects (over 1000 insects in one hour). They are agile flyers and you can see them swooping by with Dracula like magic in the night. We use screens on our windows and don’t live quite as porous a life as Gary Snyder “At night the bats dash around the rooms, in and out of the open skylights, swoop down past your cheek and go out an open sliding door.”
We occasionally get a comment that bats carry disease but that has never concerned us as the bats are living in their natural habitat and are not stressed. The little brown bat can live up to 40 years, they lived here before we did, you could call our house their summer house. The little brown bat is small, 7-14 grams, bats in other countries are quite large and are a source of wild food. They are caught, caged and sold in wet markets. Bats are very social animals and have developed immunity to various viruses that they have picked up in their travels and spread among their large colonies. When the bats are packed in cages and piled up with other caged wild animals there is an opportunity for viruses to spread to other animals and then on to humans. This is what is thought to have happened with COVID-19. The intermediary animal may have been the pangolin.
The golden rule found in all religions “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” must be applied to all creatures. We humans prize ourselves for having big brains, lets use them to reflect on the implications of our actions and create big change in the small beginning steps as we act into the world.
Actions taken at the level of the individual have huge ripple effects both positive and negative. For instance, taking wild endangered animals from the ecosystem can cause huge impacts. A pangolin can consume up to 20,000 ants and termites day maintaining balance in their ecosystem.
Ants are globally invasive species and have invaded South Africa’s Kruger National Park, and have shut down Australia’s Darwin Port after the ants were discovered among cargo. Invasive species and viruses travel with humans in out of control tourism. Leaving the delicate balance of evolved complex ecosystems in place both protects us and all the creatures. For more reading on human impact on global systems read gary’s blog post Collapse and renewal.
What does it feel like to eat endangered species? Is it a cure or a symptom of the disease? In the late 1800’s Baha’u’llah addressed the human race: “If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation.” C-19 has given human civilization a chance to pause and reflect on our actions and a horrifying picture is emerging: “if you weigh the earth’s terrestrial vertebrates, humans account for 30 percent of their total mass, and our farm animals for another 67 percent, meaning wild animals (all the moose and cheetahs and wombats combined) total just 3 percent.” — McKibben 2019. While cooking an evening meal I am reminded of how little it takes to sustain life for all creatures, fresh air, pure water, safe shelter, sleep and nutriments. As we move about in our daily lives apply the brake of moderation and remember “That in wildness is the preservation of the world” —Henry David Thoreau.
During the month of April while living in isolation. I did a small painting every day. The work started randomly and took on meaning in the backdrop of the worlds covid-19 crisis: where did it come from? how did it spread? will we always have to keep our distance? how has human society changed? can we make lasting change to our habits? This month I will be posting a selection of the 30 small paintings.
The pangolin is thought to be a vector for the Coronavirus (COVID-19), current thinking is that the virus originated in bats, passed through another host, possibly the pangolin, then mutated before spreading to human beings. You might wonder how a shy creature eking out a living on ants and termites in the jungles of Africa could be taking centre stage in this out break. Little is known about this unique wild mammal’s habits and habitat which make it difficult to care for in captivity. When attacked the creature rolls itself into a ball and is protected by an armour plate of tough scales. That is, protected from every creature except man who simply picks up the ball and walks off with it. One thing that makes the Pangolin special is that it is the only mammal with scales. This unique feature makes it highly prized in Asian medicine, even without any scientific proof. The meat is also considered a health enhancing delicacy and is sold for a high price. They are protected by international agreement as critically endangered of extinction, yet these laws are ignored, and pangolin scales are available in traditional medicine shops and pangolin meat appears on the menu in many restaurants. As I was painting in April, 14 tons of scales from 36,000 animals were seized.
“Some animals you can’t help thinking just seem too innocent for this world, the pangolin is one of those creatures.” Wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas