Let’s face it. We Africans are not the ones to say “awww” to every creature that God created. In fact, very few things make us feel warm and mushy inside. Things like back in the day when someone invited you over to their house to watch “Enter the dragon” or “Blood Spot” because they had a VCR player when you guys only had a black and white telly. Or when Churchill brings kids to make us laugh on his show. Or when Uhuru and Margaret hug after a marathon. It therefore always amazes me when my friends from the West describe rodents as being “beautiful” or “cute” and say “Awwwww” every time they sip water in their cage. I can almost understand when they call mice these words as mice are kinda cute, when 500 m away from me of course. And in all honesty, Mickey Mouse and his wife Minnie Mouse did a lot of good in their day, far more than can be said of the member of parliament for my locale that’s for sure. Hamsters are also cute. And bunnies. I think the list of cute vermin ends there.

These words of endearment however cannot and must never be used to describe bats. To me, bat sympathizers are those people who send you emails asking you whether you want to join Illuminati, the secret society. They are the kind to send you annoying sms’es asking you to join them in a serious relationship as they are called ‘Kim Watson’ and work in an international NGO in Turkana and are God-fearing and lonely and have money.

Come on. Bats are ugly demon-creatures first identified by Bruce Willis the day he turned into the nocturnal vigilante we now know as Batman.

A bat in flight. The only mammal that can truly fly.

They are largely divided into two groups according to size. Megabats, which are huge bats that mostly feed on fruits, and microbats which are smaller bats that use echoes to move about in dark caves. They can also be grouped based on what they eat, with the majority of them feeding on insects and other small animals, others on fruits and nectar and the last on blood from large mammals or birds. I know…may the Lord save us.

Despite my biases though, bats have had a bad rap. Everyone thinks that they are all vampiric. Everyone thinks that they go to roost in their father’s house in Transylvania. Or in their long-lost uncle in Gotham. Many stories have scared and entertained people since time immemorial.

Is this a cat or a bat? If you know, please let the nearest police station know.

It goes to show how old these creatures are really. They are in the folklores of a great number of communities from the Old World and the New World. And don’t get me wrong here, the Old World is not a retirement village somewhere in the Abadares where old people play golf all day. It is back when Europeans thought that the world  only contained three continents; Africa, Europe and Asia. The New World refers to the Americas which were discovered later on by someone on a boat.

I have always been curious as to how and why bats spread around or habour such nasty diseases and don’t fall sick. Most of these viruses have hit the news headlines hard; the likes of Ebola virus, Marburg virus, SARS coronavirus, MERS coronavirus, Nipah virus and Hendra virus.

To find out, I interrogated a bat and asked important questions. The bat was a worthy adversary I must say. But there is no secret that can’t be obtained with a bit of waterboarding and torture. Here is the classified info from the interrogation process at a top-secret location in Machakos County.

‘What is your name. Speak up if you want to see your family!’

‘The name is Bat. James Bat’

‘What is your age?’

‘Forever 16. Hashtag blessed.’

‘What is your experience with habouring viruses and other enemies of the state?’

‘You will never take me alive!’

‘Someone hand me the pliers!’

‘Okay…okay. I’ll talk. I harbour about 66 viruses which can sometimes find their way to humans and animals and cause very nasty diseases that have no cure….’

‘Good. Now that was not so hard…was it. Now, why was your kind recruited to spread these viruses?’

‘A number of reasons…

  1. We believe we can fly – This enables us to move around quite a lot looking for food, much more than other animals. We can therefore interact with many of our kind to exchange viruses and spread them over large geographical zones as we interact with many different humans and animals.
  2. We love coitus– This means we are sooo many. So even if you kill me, I still have many more uncles to spread viruses around. Muhaha. (He spits blood on the floor before continuing with the confession)
  3. We live long – Our lives are quite long compared to other rodents. Some of us can go up to between 25 and 35 years. We therefore meet up with many people who have not been exposed to these viruses in the course of our lives. So, just one of us is enough to spread misery to many.
  4. Our immune systems may be different from those of other animals – Since we evolved much earlier than anyone else, there may be significant differences in our immune systems not present in other mammals and rodents that make us able to remain health even as we carry such nasty viruses as Rabies and Ebola.
  5. Sometimes as some of us do that thing we do with the echoes (echolocation) we produce droplets of saliva, mucus and other throat fluids that may spread some viruses through the air.

‘Ahaa! I knew it. Someone get me a secure line to the Cabinet Secretary for Health. This is a Code Red.’

I step out to make the call. I talk on the phone about a minute and a half and go back to the interrogation room.

‘I need a full list of disease-causing microorganisms that you guys spread…stat!’

‘The list is long! And my bosses don’t tell me everything. I am just a foot soldier. I only know of the following, but there are plenty others, depending on the part of the world we operate in:

  1. The hateful Rabies virus
  2. Something called histoplasmosis
  3. Marburg virus
  4. Ebola virus
  5. Nipah virus
  6. Hendra virus
  7. Lyssaviruses which can also cause Rabies disease
  8. Coronaviruses which can do all manner of harm to us.
  9. Demonic possession
  10. Vampirism’

‘Are some of these viruses found in Kenya?’

‘Yes ofcourse’

‘Are you serious about the last two on your list?’

‘No. I was just kidding on those’

‘Someone give me the pliers. We don’t negotiate with terrorists here’

‘Ohh come on. Lighten up! Nooo….not the pliers…Nooooo’

Screams continue through the night. And they lived happily ever after.

Bats have therefore become a very efficient means to spread pathogens in different parts of the world. They are a force to be reckoned with. Aside from humans and rodents, no other species comes in such great numbers in the world. They are also the most geographically spread of all land mammals on earth. A pretty impressive CV.

So guys, you can already see the great lengths we in this blog go through to get you the latest on infectious diseases. Share it then, will you.

Fun fact: Bats are one of few species that have a special name for their poop. Bat poop that has accumilated in those dark caves that some of them live in is called guano. How cool is it when your poop has a special name…And please, it is guano, not guarana..wacha za ovyo!