Around 10,000 of the flying mammals have found a home on the Forest Ranger’s Office grounds
The Forest Ranger’s Office at Satyavedu on the Chittoor-Tamil Nadu border is a roosting place for thousands of bats, who have made the large banyan trees on the premises their home for many years now.
The four giant banyan trees, each over 300 years old, stand guard as silent sentinels along with four huge tamarind trees, giving the premises an eerie atmosphere.
Officials say that some fruit bats first began roosting at the giant trees around half a century ago. Their population swelled considerably over the years, and they now number around 10,000.
Till the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, residents of Satyavedu were not bothered about the bats, with some residents only mildly irritated about the bats due to their relentless screeching round the clock. However, as news spread about the origins of COVID-19, residents began to grow apprehensive about the bats, fearing that they were carriers of COVID-19.
Forest officials began spreading awareness among the public, dispelling rumours circulating on social media.
People living around the complex have become accustomed to the bats’ presence.
“Immediately after sunset, the bats begin flying out of the trees in search of food. They cover a radius of several kilometres. Those who go out for a walk after dark can see bats swooshing right over their heads. A stranger to this place would be caught unawares. Those of us who live nearby the trees have grown used to the noise made by the bats, but it can be very unsettling for newcomers for surte,” locals said.
Forest Range Officer G. Jaya Prasada Rao told The Hindu that co-existence with bats is unavoidable.
“The gigantic trees are now home to thousands of bats. During the initial days of COVID-19, some people came to us with a proposal to drive away the bats. We told them it was impossible and also unwarranted. Later, they too realised that the bats are harmless. The incidence of hunting them has also come down drastically in the last six months due to fear of the virus,” Mr. Prasada Rao said.
“They are here to stay,” he added. The FRO said that if not for the trees and the office compound, the bats would have certainly been killed in large numbers due to the COVID-19 threat.