"Bats have lived with coronaviruses for millennia. Details are still hazy about
how one of these viruses evolved into SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID in humans.
Did it go directly from bats to humans or via another animal species? When? And
why? If we can’t answer these questions for this now-infamous virus, we have
little hope of preventing the next pandemic.
Some bat species are hosts for other viruses lethal to humans, from rabies to
Nipah to Hendra. But their supercharged immune systems allow them to co-exist
with these viruses without appearing sick.
So what can we do to prevent these viruses emerging in the first place? We
found one surprisingly simple answer in our new research on flying foxes in
Australia: protect and restore native bat habitat to boost natural protection.
When we destroy native forests, we force nectar-eating flying foxes into
survival mode. They shift from primarily nomadic animals following eucalypt
flowering and forming large roosts to less mobile animals living in a large
number of small roosts near agricultural land where they may come in contact
Hendra virus is carried by bats and can spill over to horses. It doesn’t often
spread from horses to humans, but when it does, it’s extremely dangerous.
Two-thirds of Hendra cases in horses have occurred in heavily cleared areas of
northern New South Wales and south-east Queensland. That’s not a coincidence.
Now we know how habitat destruction and spillover are linked, we can act.
Protecting the eucalyptus species flying foxes rely on will reduce the risk of
the virus spreading to horses and then humans. The data we gathered also makes
it possible to predict times of heightened Hendra virus risk – up to two years
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics