A Bat Tortured at Havana’s Revolution Square

Isbel Diaz Torres

tortura-murcielagoHAVANA TIMES – 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.

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

4 thoughts on “A Bat Tortured at Havana’s Revolution Square

  • Yeah, let’s blame everything on the Castros……you bad bad people!!!
    “But only if the zoo keepers learn to treat their special ans with greater respect.” By referring to the 11,000,000 plus people of Cuba as specimens is an insult. Now I know your true colours.

  • Thank you Isbel, for speaking up for this unfortunate bat. It seems that nobody else was decent enough to support you at the time. Cruelty to animals is so often a precursor to cruel treatment of humans, and should have no place in a civilised society.

  • It’s appalling that students tortured a bat. These people need to grow a conscience. Say no to animal abuse.

  • Dear Isbel,

    All corn is transgenic. The original wild corn produced small cobs smaller than the last joint of your baby finger. Only through selective breeding and manual pollination did the larger corn cob varieties develop. The only difference today is the methods by which the transgenic operations are carried out.

    The treatment of the bats you described is cruel, to be sure. But is that any different than they way your government treats that other species of local fauna, Homo Cubano? Holding him still for visitors to inspect, twisting him this way and that, spreading his delicate wings for inspection? Fortunately, this creature has found ways to propagate its line across the narrow straights surrounding the native habitat. Perhaps one day, these alienated strains of the Homo Cubano will return to the island and reinvigorate the local gene pool. But only if the zoo keepers learn to treat their specimens with greater respect.

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