Mexican Free-tailed Bats
Jonathan Alonzo

The importance of bats during COVID-19

Bat conservation has never been more critical as COVID-19 impacts the lives of people worldwide.

1. While the exact chain of transmission that resulted in COVID-19 may never be established, we know that the destruction of habitats and exploitation of wildlife increase the risk that new pathogens will jump into the human population. We are healthier and safer when we conserve wildlife and natural habitats.

2. As of November, 2022, social distancing and improvements in the development and distribution of drugs and vaccines that protect against the COVID-19 virus have helped to reduce the health impacts of this pandemic across the world. However, food supplies and economies are still strained as a result of the pandemic, and bats continue to play a vital role in restoring our natural ecosystems and supporting human economies across the world.

3. Conserving bats and their habitats allows researchers to better understand the ability of many bat species to respond and tolerate viruses. These research efforts may be key to the next breakthrough vaccine or treatment against shared viruses.

Bat Facts

Bats species are considered threatened by the IUCN
plant families rely on bats as their major or exclusive pollinators
and more, in agricultural and human health savings for the planet every year
species of plants rely on bats for seed dispersal, including pioneer plant species

J. Scott Altenbach

Bats & COVID-19

What exactly is the connection between bats and coronavirus? Dr. Winifred Frick, chief scientist of BCl, describes what we know and the importance of bats.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What caused the COVID-19 pandemic?

    COVID-19 is a disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, a coronavirus of animal origin (zoonotic pathogen). While SARS-CoV-2 shares an ancestor with a coronavirus that has been found in a Rhinolophus bat species, this ancestry dates to 40 years ago – an eon for viruses with significant potential for mutational changes 1. To date, the animal source of SARS-CoV-2 has not yet been identified.

    Scientists are still investigating how SARS-CoV-2 spilled into the human population. Although approximately 60% of known human pathogens have a zoonotic origin, for these pathogens to spillover and become established in the human population, a series of ecological and physiological barriers need to be “crossed” 2. Activities that lead to human encroachment into wildlife habitat and exploitation of wildlife species create opportunities for animal pathogens to cross these barriers and become zoonotic. Current phylogenetic and epidemiological evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 spilled into humans in a market selling live wildlife 3,4. These markets may create opportunities for pathogens to cross several ecological and physiological barriers, as animal species, which would not be in close proximity to each other under natural conditions, are housed in crowded, stressful, unsanitary conditions and in close proximity to people.

    Regardless of the viral origins, COVID-19 is now a human disease and the risk of getting sick is from another person, not from wildlife. You cannot catch COVID-19 from a bat.

  • Will persecuting bats stop the spread of disease or help save human lives?

    No. Killing, harming, or harassing bats will not end the COVID-19 pandemic, nor will it protect people from infection. Because bats are not carriers of COVID-19 and play no role in disease spread, indiscriminate killing of bats will not save human lives and does nothing to help protect or improve human health.

  • What do we know about bats and coronavirus?

    Bats are natural hosts to coronaviruses, including some that are closely related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused COVID-19. Coronaviruses of bat origin typically require an intermediate host (a different species) before spilling into humans 5. Bats with coronaviruses in the wild are not a threat to human health if protected and left undisturbed. Bats and other wildlife do not spread the disease among humans—only humans spread SARS-CoV-2 to other humans. 


  • Why should we protect bats?

    Bats provide vital ecosystem services such as pest control, pollination, and seed dispersal. Bats are important for global biodiversity and ecosystem health, and many bat species have adapted to living safely alongside us in both urban and rural environments, in our gardens, parks and even roosting around our homes, as beneficial neighbors.

  • What can we do to help?

    Please help by halting the spread of misinformation around COVID-19 and bats. At Bat Conservation International, we work closely with a global network of experts to ensure we provide accurate information as it becomes available. Please check back on our website for further updates or follow us on social media.

BCI team members working on habitat protection in St. Catherine, Jamaica. Bat Conservation International

Changes to BCI’s Operations

As we learn and adapt to the challenges of working in the COVID-19 pandemic era, we strive to make the health and safety of bats, our staff, and our supporters our top priority.  

During the peak of the pandemic, we adhered to the CDC’s guidance as well as state and local orders, and made changes to our operations that included avoiding large gatherings such as events, trainings, and conferences, postponing non-essential domestic and international travel, and working remotely. 

To date, we are unaware of any instance of human-to-bat transmission of SARS-CoV-2. However, we strive to minimize this risk during our research and conservation activities by adhering to the IUCN SSC Bat Specialist Group’s guidelines.  

Operational Changes

  • Staff Operations & Field Work

    We’re taking the necessary steps to protect our staff while minimizing any disruptions to our mission. These precautions include:

      • Making sure staff who will be working in close proximity to bats are vaccinated against COVID-19 and test negative to the disease prior to doing fieldwork. 
      • Adopting field hygiene practices, such as wearing gloves when handling bats, wearing KN95 mask when in close proximity to bats, disinfecting equipment that comes into contact with bats, and minimizing contact with bats. 
Peter Neumann

Downloadable Resources

Fact Sheets


  1. Lytras, S. et al. Exploring the Natural Origins of SARS-CoV-2 in the Light of Recombination. Genome Biol. Evol. 14, 1–14 (2022).
  2. Plowright, R. K. et al. Pathways to zoonotic spillover. Nat. Rev. Microbiol. 15, 502–510 (2017).
  3. Pekar, J. E. et al. The molecular epidemiology of multiple zoonotic origins of SARS-CoV-2. Science (80-. ). 377, 960–966 (2022).
  4. Jiang, X. & Wang, R. Wildlife trade is likely the source of SARS-CoV-2. Science (80-. ). 377, 925–926 (2022).
  5. Banerjee, A., Kulcsar, K., Misra, V., Frieman, M. & Mossman, K. Bats and coronaviruses. Viruses 11, 7–9 (2019).

In the News

Setting the Terms for Zoonotic Diseases: Effective Communication for Research, Conservation, and Public Policy
Jul. 13, 2021, MDPI

Message from our Executive Director on the World Health Organization’s Report on the Origins of COVID-19
Mar. 30, 2021, Bat Conservation International

The Fate of Bats is Hanging in the Balance. That Could Have Very Real Consequences for Us
Mar. 17, 2021, PBS News Hour

The Virus, the Bats and Us
Dec. 11, 2020, NY Times

COVID: Why bats are not to blame, say scientists
Oct. 12, 2020, BBC News

What bats can teach us about developing immunity to COVID-19
Sept. 11, 2020, LA Times

Deadly Diseases from Wildlife Thrive When Nature is Destroyed, Study Finds
Aug. 5, 2020, The Guardian

Ecology and Economics for Pandemic Prevention
July 24, 2020, Science

How Bats Beat Coronaviruses Could Hold the Key to Tackling COVID-19 Pandemic
July 24, 2020, Newsweek

Bats carry coronaviruses but don’t get sick. Could their secret help us fight COVID-19?
June 27, 2020: The Philadelphia Inquirer

Bats and COVID-19 @19:30
June 26, 2020: BBC

Bats are immune to coronaviruses, so scientists are looking at what we can learn from them
June 23, 2020: Health 24

Why Bats Are Ecological Superheroes
June 20, 2020: Mercola

Bats: The Mystery Behind COVID-19
June 9, 2020: CNN

Full Story: The connection between bats and Coronavirus: Wildlife is not to blame
May 21, 2020: The Invisible Mammal

How Bats Might Have Tamed the Coronavirus
May 10, 2020: The Atlantic

A New Virus Could Yet Spread From Animals To Humans
April 22, 2020: Forbes

Don’t Blame Bats for COVID-19
March 29, 2020: Business Mirror

From Bats to Human Lungs, the Evolution of a Coronavirus
March 27, 2020: The New Yorker

Bats are a possible source of the coronavirus — but humans are to blame for the spread of the disease
March 24, 2020: Discover Magazine