More control needed over pesticides
Adam Hartman
[The Namibian -- 22 May 2014]

THE Namibia Animal Rehabilitation, Research and Education Centre (NARREC) says since pesticides are a potential danger to people’s health they should not be used irresponsibly, especially by unqualified persons.

Their comments come after the alleged use of an “unknown” pesticide, which resulted in the poisoning of more than 200 bats early this month at the Zambian High Commission’s building in Windhoek, which Liz Komen of Narrec described as a cause for great concern.

After the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Windhoek was alerted of the dead bats on the pavement at the high commission, they called in NARREC to manage about only four bats that had survived, according to a statement by Komen.

The incident prompted a visit to the offices of the high commission; apparently the second time in a few years.

Lombe Kachingwe, First Secretary at the Zambian High Commission denied using poison to target bats in the building and said it was in fact the first time in his two years at the office that he was made aware that there had been so many bats after the discovery of dead bats outside the building.

According to Komen, some years ago, an “undisclosed pesticide had been used and the strong smell of the chemical was obvious in the building”.

“Although at first there was a denial that the bats were targeted, this second extermination came about after an undisclosed pesticide was used again,” said Komen.

She said that after a meeting between her, MET officials and officials from the high commission, it came to light that a pesticide was used inside the office to rid it of fleas and bugs.

The pesticide was allegedly bought from a Windhoek agricultural retail outlet, and is apparently also used on vegetables.

“This should, however, alert any health or labour authorities to further investigate a product with such high toxicity to mammals. If the pesticide was sprayed in the offices well below and out of reach of the bats’ roosts and these animals still die in such numbers then the risk to humans must be very high. If the spray was used directly into the roosts, then the illegality is compounded by killing of indigenous mammals without a permit as well as with a product not specified and labelled for that activity,” said Komen.

She said Windhoek is home to at least five bat species, all of which feed on insects and are protected in Namibia.

“In a number of cases a building owner or tenant may feel the need to remove the bats from the building. This is a simple act of placing bright lights into the area, usually the ceiling space. The more costly part of this exercise is the location and closing of the openings into the space that the bats use,” she said.

She said the bats provide an ecological service. “Insectivorous bats consume an enormous number of night-flying insects, including the malaria vector (mosquito) species and these nocturnal insect feeders will specifically be attracted to spaces where lights attract insects,” Komen said.

“Pesticides are being seen as a potential major hazard to people’s health and should not be used irresponsibly, and preferably not by unqualified persons.”

While staff at the high commission blamed the cold, Kachingwe suggested that maybe it had something to do with difficulties of the bats moving through a small space to get in and out of the building. He however admitted that if his guess was right there would be more frequent mortalities. This was a once-off mass mortality.

“You can send your inspectors here to see whether poisons have been used but I can assure you that we have not used poisons to kill bats,” he said.

He added that only after the discovery and the realisation that there had been a bat infestation did he contact a pest control company in Windhoek to give a quotation for removing the bats.

The Namibian spoke to a representative at the company, who confirmed that the high commission had asked for a quotation, and said it would cost about N$197 000 to “remove and relocate” the bats. The commission had not approved the quote yet.

The representative said bats are not poisoned, but captured and taken into the veld, far from their original roost and then released to find a new home.

She added that bats thrive in the cold and cannot die because of the cold.

The unexplained mass deaths could highly likely only have been due to poisoning.

“We do not poison bats, but they are also very sensitive to poisons,” she said, adding that even common household pesticide sprays could be fatal to the little winged mammals.

Both Kachingwe and the pest controller agreed that a specimen of the bats should have been taken for testing to see whether they had indeed been poisoned, and by what poison. This was apparently not done