Trinidad: ‘Vampire bats are sucking the blood from my chickens’

Trinidad: ‘Vampire bats are sucking the blood from my chickens’
A screenshot from the video showing the bat and chickens.
A screenshot from the video showing the bat and chickens.

(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) – A Barrackpore man has captured a nighttime video showing vampire bats feeding on the blood of chickens roosting on a tree in his back yard.

Express reader Bachan Finlayson said he recorded footage of what appeared to be white-winged vampire bats (Diaemus youngi) attached to chickens which were asleep in the trees.

Finlayson of Jaipaulsingh Road in Barrackpore told the Express that he raises approximately 35 chickens. He said that some of the chickens bitten by the bats have since died. As a result, he wants people to be on the lookout for similar incidents.

“Bats are sucking our chickens at night. I just want people to know what is going on and to be on the lookout in case of any sickness,” he said.

There are two species of vampire bats in Trinidad and Tobago. The common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) typically feeds on the blood of mammals. The white winged vampire bat is distinguished by its white tipped wings and feeds on the blood of birds.

All farms in Trinidad and Tobago are required to immunize animals against diseases such as rabies. However, the wounds of vampire bats which are left unattended can lead to the infection and in some cases death.

According to Dr Luke Rostant, researcher and lecturer at the University of the West Indies, the white winged the vampire bat is a rare species of bat. He said that situations such as those recorded by Finlayson are not common.

“The species is rare compared with the common vampire bat, and so incidents such as those in the video are likely also rare. The birds may be at risk of bleeding out, which is of course a concern.”

In an editorial written by Rostant in Living World Journal in 2018 he pointed out that bats are dispersers of pollen and seeds, a niche that has contributed to reforestation and insect control.

“Whenever I am given the opportunity to present on the importance of bats, I start by asking the audience what they believe to be the importance of birds. Depending on the audience, I may get a few people answering that their plumage or songs are appealing. With some prompting, finally, members of the audience speak of pollination, seed dispersal, and insect control.”

“Bats are the night shift for these services. One study on the pollination services of new world phyllostomid bats found that they pollinate the flowers of 360 species of plants of 159 genera and 44 families. Another study found that neotropical bats disperse the fruits of at least 549 species of plants of 191 genera and 62 families.”

“Bats are especially good at helping to repair fragmented forests since they are described as mobile foragers, traversing these open areas and dispersing seeds into forest patches. Without insectivorous bats, the food resources we as humans depend upon would likely be more expensive,” he wrote.

He also stated that while vampire bats in Trinidad have had negative associations in the past, they are potentially beneficial in furthering research to develop drugs.

“Today, research continues on mimicking the anticoagulant properties of enzymes in the saliva of the Common Vampire Bat. Though the Vampire Bat has a sordid history in Trinidad, it is hoped that in harnessing the special properties found in their saliva humans may benefit from novel drugs for stroke victims.”

“Throughout the world, bats continue to perform their tasks under cover of darkness. They perform many ecosystem services which we take for granted, have spectacular adaptations to perform these tasks, and continue to be important subjects of research.” he wrote.

In the event of a vampire bat sighting he said that farmers should not take matters into their own hands but rather hand over the bats to the Ministry of Agriculture’s anti-rabies unit.

“Farmers should under no circumstances try to capture or kill these bats. Instead they should contact the ministry of agriculture’s anti rabies unit which will investigate. The birds should also be kept in a secure enclosure, well lit, at least on the outside,” he said.

The Anti Rabies Unit can be contacted at 667-8488, 672-4411 or 662-5986.

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