By Isbel Diaz Torres, Havana Times, August 10, 2015
Some days ago, I wrote about how transgenic corn was being promoted at a fair held in celebration of the Young Communist League’s anniversary and that, next to primary school students, those doing this took up a large part of Havana’s Revolution Square.
That, however, was not the only thing that caught my attention. I was also shocked at how profoundly anti-ecological nearly everything there was.
Desiccated animals on display, trained dog shows, blaring music that was almost ambient noise (one of Havana’s chief pollutants) and, worst of all, the torture of bats.
Yes. I am not exaggerating.
A group of students from the Faculty of Biology of the University of Havana, in the noble effort of exposing children to Cuban fauna, brought a poor, live bat to no display. It may have been an Artibeus jamaicensi, Molossus molossus or Tadarida brasiliensis, any of the three fairly common species one finds in Havana’s neighborhood of Vedado.
The students would hold the animal by the ends of its front extremities and extend these completely, so as to spread the wings of this flying mammal. They would repeat this over and over, even when the spectators didn’t move close to see.
After they finished explaining how the wings worked, they didn’t let the animal go, no. They continued to hold the animal tightly, a fist wrapped around it, and, while gesticulating rather violently, going on to explain how the sonar system of Chiroptera worked.
The stress of having been hunted down and placed in captivity was apparently not enough. They were now throwing its circadian process off balance, particularly in terms of the sleep-waking cycles (everyone knows these are nocturnal animals who sleep in dark places during the day).
As though that weren’t enough, the animal had to endure an endless “rollercoaster” of sudden ups, downs, twists and stops in the hand of the person offering the explanation, who forget (how ironic for a future biologist) that what he held in his hand was a living being.
I of course intervened and reproached one of the young men, who replied with a rather defiant question: “What do you think is more important, keeping the animal from suffering one day, or these children from learning to appreciate and protect it?”
I thought about it for a second and replied that I wanted both: that children to learn to value it and for it not to be tortured. Perhaps he didn’t notice that, if you send out a message with contradictory contents, these cancel each other out and the message never gets there.
Later, I thought that, after that demonstration, the restless children wouldn’t just stop to look at a bat but also (as they saw in front of them with their own eyes) try to catch it and play with it.
None of the bat species mentioned above is endemic or threatened. In fact, Cuba is privileged in this sense, for it harbors 26 bat species (including 6 or 7 endemic ones), the largest number in the Antilles.
In addition to the lack of bioethics shown, the demonstration set a rather bad precedent, particularly in connection with human health, as bats can carry rabies (which doesn’t mean all bats have it).
A bat needn’t bite a person to infect it with the virus. One need only have a tiny skin lesion that comes into contact with the bat’s saliva for one to be at risk. Recall that they, as mammals, lick their own fur clean.
In addition, bat populations are quickly dwindling around the world: 77 species are considered threatened, 99 vulnerable and 53 are in danger of becoming extinct (25 are in critical danger and 5 are already considered extinct).
Most bat species live in small communities and this makes them more vulnerable.
Elsewhere, I wrote that the Faculty of Biology of the University of Havana, where I studied for five years and obtained my biology degree, is not precisely the best place in terms of raising environmental awareness.
That said, seeing these young people who are part of a group called Planta (“Plant”) made me think they are at least trying to reach people with environmental issues and to stop looking at ecosystems merely as “natural resources.”
It’s a shame they were used to fill up a spot at a fair that also encouraged interest in fire arms, military uniforms, transgenic crops, oil, technologies used to monitor citizens and anything they could find to celebrate the anniversary of an organization that, to add insult to injury, is only nominally communist.