Fruit bats destroy apple crop in Himachal

Shimla, Sep 11 (Calcutta Tube) Fruit bats, which play a critical role in controlling pests, have become a menace in the Jubbal-Rohru belt in the upper Shimla region of Himachal Pradesh, destroying a ripe apple crop.

Bats leave claw marks on most of the fruits, making these unfit for human consumption.

Roshan Lal Manta, an apple grower in Bhamnoli village on the outskirts of Rohru town, said bats are destroying a bumper apple crop in the area. ‘In some areas, there were reports of more than 50 percent damage to the crop.’

‘We have noticed the bats’ predation after a gap of almost 40 years. At that time, such attacks were common but were controlled by their mass culling,’ the octogenarian Manta added.

Ranvijay Singh, another apple grower, said most of his crop had been destroyed by the bats.

‘The number of fruit bats has risen in recent weeks when the crop started maturing. We think there was a mass exodus of the bats from other areas where their food sources had depleted due to recent heavy rains,’ he said.

Uttam Saikia, a researcher with the high altitude field station of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) in Solan, told IANS that two species of fruit bats are found in the region – the flying fox (Pteropus giganteus) and the fulvous fruit bat (Rousettus leschenaulti).

‘Since the flying fox is a common species, it might be predominant in Rohru. Since it is a gregarious species with a normal group size of about 200-300, it makes seasonal migration even up to 20 km in search of food,’ he added.

According to Saikia, although the flying foxes cause some damage to the fruit, their invisible role in keeping the environment healthy is far greater than the damage they cause.

‘They must not be culled as they help in controlling insects, pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds. The farmers can take preventive measures like netting the trees to protect the crop,’ he said.

In 2002, the Rohru subdivision was under the grip of pneumonic plague, an infection of rodents caused by bacterium Yersinia pestis.

Studies conducted by the ZSI show that Himachal Pradesh plays host to 24 species of bats. These included the Great Himalayan horseshoe bat, the intermediate horseshoe bat, the Great Himalayan leaf-nosed bat, the Schreiber’s long-fingered bat and the Siliguri bat.

The Great Himalayan horseshoe bat and the Siliguri bat have been declared near-threatened by the Washington-based International Union for Conservation of Nature.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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