We Need Bats: Why Do Wet Markets Even Still Exist?


A new study shows offers the likelihood that the COVID-19 pandemic did begin at a Wuhan, China so-called wet market, where various wild species and domestic animals are kept in close proximity, mostly sold for food. The animals (often trafficked illegally) are butchered right there, and without any attention paid to humane treatment or sanitation. What’s more, the live animals – which can range from dogs to bat species to chickens – are so incredibly stressed. Animals species who in the real world would never have direct exposure one another, such as bats and humans are now unprotected.

We’ve known all this for decades – yet these markets continue to exist in China and other places in Southeast Asia, even today, after the pandemic. Apparently, there was no lesson learned.

We’ve also known that bat species routinely carry various coronaviruses.

We absolutely do need bats on the planet. They are responsible for pollinating mango, banana, durian, guava and agave (used to make tequila) to mention only a few. In all over 500 known species (who knows what we still don’t know) are pollinated by bats. Also, bats are responsible for dispersing seeds of hundreds more plant species, many sustain rain forests.

Without bats our planet would also be overrun by many insect species currently kept in check. Billions more mosquitoes would live and happily spread increased mosquito-borne diseases to humans like malaria, Zika, West Nile Virus.

According to a 2011 study published in Science, insect consumption by bats reduces the pesticide bill of the agriculture industry in the United States by roughly $22.9 billion per year on average. Another study, partially funded by the National Science Foundation calculated the average annual value of Brazilian free-tailed bats as pest control for cotton production in eight counties of south-central Texas at about $741,000.

It’s true that bats are reservoirs for many virus, including coronaviruses. Instead of capturing bats and selling them as food items at Chinese and other far eastern so-called wet markets, a recent study by Cornell University and the Wildlife Conservation Society highlights the importance of leaving bats undisturbed in their natural habitats only for human reasons but to protect human health as well. Bats have been identified as reservoirs for numerous viruses that can cross over to humans, likely including the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID-19. However, that isn’t likely to occur without direct human exposure.

In a new paper published in The Lancet Planetary Health, researchers make the case that allowing bats to live undisturbed is a critical first step for avoiding another catastrophe on the scale of COVID-19 or SARS. By adopting a global taboo that respects bats and their habitats, scientists say we can significantly lower the risk of future zoonotic pandemics.

We’ve already learned from bats. How do you think sonar was developed? We learned from the echolocation bats utilyze to “see” at night.

Instead of cruelly, mixing trapped bats for food items – mixed in with a wide assortment of other species in these wet markets – we could potentially learn from them. Afterall, how do bats manage to live with a wide array of viruses, from various coronaviruses to Ebola, without an apparent ill effect?

Zoonotic spillover occurs when a pathogen jumps from animals to humans, leading to the emergence of infectious diseases. By interfering with bats’ habitats and behaviors, humans increase the chances of zoonotic spillover events. New studies support existing studies, demonstrating that activities such as hunting, consuming bats, culling them, or encroaching on their natural habitats disrupt their delicate ecosystem and facilitate the transmission of viruses to humans.