Image credit: Zeusandhera/Flickr
At the edge of the Amazon, a remote tribe suffers a plague of rabies spread by desperate vampire bats. It sounds like the plot from a bad B-movie, but the reality is far more grim: More than 500 people have been infected and at least four children have died.
It's not the result of secret government experiments or a scientist gone mad. Instead, the attacks have been attributed to deforestation.
Worldwide, only 0.5 percent of bats carry rabies. Among vampire bats, however, the number is higher and most vampire bats infected with rabies can be found in South America. Typically, vampire bats feed on wildlife or livestock. They have been known to turn to humans as a source of blood, however, in areas where there habitat has been degraded by deforestation.
This is the likely catalyst for the string of attacks has plagued the Awajun indigenous tribe in Peru. After members of the tribe were unable to identify the cause of death of the four children, they sought help from the national health ministry.
Like chimpanzees in Africa, habitat loss pushes vampire bats in the Amazon into closer proximity with humans. With fewer opportunities to find food in the wild, these animals are forced to look in settled communities.
Of course, this is just one of the many implications of deforestation. Increased incidences of malaria, massive contributions to climate change, and the loss of the homes and livelihoods of indigenous people are other realities of the practice.
Indeed, there is no Van Helsing to drive a wooden stake through the heart of this problem; only smart policy that recognizes trees are more valuable standing than cut down can help.
Read more about deforestation:
Amazon Deforestation Increases Malaria Rate by 50%
Deadly Protests Force Peru's PM to Resign after Law Opens Up Amazonian Land to Oil, Gas Companies
In Amazon, Protecting Rainforest by Policy or Force