The overwhelming majority of bats are friends of humanity. They gobble up the insects that bite us and ruin our crops. They pollinate flowers and they replant forests by spreading seeds around. But as agriculture overtakes rain forests and jungles, humans have come into conflict with one bat species: the common vampire bat.
In Latin America, vampire bats drink the blood of livestock. Very rarely, these bats contract rabies. Before they die, they can spread the deadly virus to pigs, chickens, cows — and even humans. The disease costs farmers in Latin America $30 million every year and kills dozens of people. In March of this year, a man in Brazil reportedly died of rabies after being bitten by a vampire bat.
Ranchers, whose livelihoods are threatened, want the government to wipe out this threat. But is extermination the best course of action? Would the world be better without vampire bats? Is there anything that makes them worth saving?
NPR’s science YouTube channel Skunk Bear is all about tackling tricky questions. So we headed down to Panama to try and better understand the problem and this seemingly sinister species.
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