Normally Natuurpunt staff count the bat population in the quarries every year. Natuurpunt’s Ghis Palmans explains why the count isn’t going ahead this year.
“Last year Asian bats transmitted coronavirus to humans via a third animal, probably pangolins. There’s a risk we could do the opposite and infect the European bat. It’s a risk we are simply not prepared to take. We know that the virus jumps the species barrier. Some animals are more at risk. Mink are in risk category 1, mice in risk category 4 and bats in risk category 3 as far as human to animal transmission is concerned.”
Ghis acknowledges the risk of transmission is small, but his organisation isn’t prepared to take it. The humidity in the chalk quarries is also an issue. Air humidity is 96%. Add 4% and it would be raining. All this humidity is absorbed by the walls of the quarry. The temperature is low too: between 4 and 11°C.
“We simply don’t know how the virus behaves in such conditions” says Ghis.
Some 40% of the Flemish bat population hibernates in Riemst. They will miss this year’s count as will all bats across Europe as the count has been cancelled across the continent.