Bats are in the news again, but this time, in relation to online retail.
Reportedly, dead bats, including the painted woolly bats – an Asian bat species known for its orange and black colour – which the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed as ‘near threatened’, are being sold online on sites like Etsy and eBay.
In October 2022, more than 500 plus listings of dead bats appeared on Etsy, and at least 71 on eBay. According to the latest, unpublished documentation by a research group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, co-led by bat specialist Joanna Coleman, many advertisements on these online sites mentioned Halloween tie-ins, dead bats displayed as Christmas gifts, bat jewellery in the form of hats, barrettes, garter belts and so on. Canadian non-profit Monitor is funding the group’s ongoing research.
Data scientist Nistara Randhawa has been tracking e-commerce platforms for listings of painted woolly bats, an Asian insect-eating bat species known for their orange and black colour.
She said that more than 130 advertisements featured these bats, and possibly 117 others featured these bats too. Randhawa added that the people offering bat products online mostly seemed to be in the US.
Biologist Susan Tsang said that it is still not known who is responsible for the hunting, taxidermy and sale of the painted woolly bats. She added that this species are not known to bear diseases that can harm human beings, however, if they are put in unhygienic and stressful conditions with other wild animals, it could lead to disease transmission between them.
The souvenir trade is one of the major threats to the painted woolly bats, especially as laws regarding the capture and export of these bats vary across countries.
Researcher Joanna Coleman said that she was unaware of how huge the painted woolly bat trade is but it is likely that the species is truly endangered. Reportedly, eBay told the National Geographic that it puts efforts to keep illegal animal sales off its site with laws that prohibit the selling of endangered or protected animals. The e-commerce site also mentioned that it is one of the 47 businesses that are part of the coalition to stop wildlife trafficking online.
Etsy, which is also a part of the coalition, refused to comment on the matter. According to Etsy policies, the company prohibits the sales of goods comprising endangered or threatened animals.
Souvenir Trade Of Bats And Associated Risks To Public Health
In 2021, a report published in the Frontiers in Veterinary Science stated that 237 listings of bats were found on eBay between May 11 and 25, 2020, having sellers in Australia, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the US.
Laws in Australia, Canada, Europe and the UK prevent the trade-related movement of threatened species. This includes the protection of bats, but according to researchers, implementing those laws is difficult due to massive online trading and shipping of products.
According to study leader Dr Chaber, without understanding the methods used during bat harvesting, processing and treatment before online listing, it is reasonable to consider online bat trade to be a potential risk to human health.
The study also reported that since the information of the methods used for preparing the bat taxidermy specimens is limited, the risk of spread of infectious diseases remained unknown.
Threat Of Online Bat Trade
In the world of e-commerce, online trading is a unique player in the trading community and is developing rapidly. This trading platform seems to have also hit the bat trade.
Online trading puts greater threat on bats and creates a unique demand, which seems to be growing rapidly.
According to researchers, the potential effect of souvenir trade on bats is almost unknown, and there is an urgent requirement to uncover specific information.