Bats ‘miss their home’ as storm uproots ancient banyan tree in Villupuram village – Reuters

Express press service

VILLUPURAM: Due to heavy rain in Villupuram on Sunday, the village of Kazhuperrumpakkam lost its oldest and largest inhabitant – a two-century-old banyan tree. It left hundreds of bats that lived on its branches, homeless as the tree was uprooted on Monday.

Long standing, the banyan tree has long been a symbol of pleasant memories for villagers. As it also housed the village’s winged creatures, playing musical instruments and popping crackers during festivals was forbidden for over a century. The foot-tall bats are said to attract researchers, journalists and vacationing families.

Recalling the heavy downpours, 17-year-old resident V Jayaraman said: “Hearing the noise, we went outside and found the tree blocking the main road after it crash-landed, snapping the power line.”

“A century ago, these bats had stayed in a tamarind tree near the houses of Brahmin families, who developed this village by employing laborers for agricultural work,” Jayaraman added. In the middle of the 20th century, people from the Kuravar community moved to the village and tried to catch the bats by applying chemicals to the tamarind tree. The bats then moved to a banyan tree, residents said.

Another resident, A Ramalingam, said: “These bats have attracted media coverage and students of ecology, for research purposes. Even people from neighboring villages used to bring their children here. Even during the spread of Nipah virus, the villagers were not afraid of bats and later the health department confirmed that there was no spread of the virus in the village.

Locals further stated that these bats were once in the thousands, but now their numbers have dwindled. They traveled at night and returned before sunrise and no one in the village would know where they were going, they added.

A senior forest department official, formerly in Tindivanam, said bats usually reside in green trees. “If the tree dies or is uprooted, they automatically move to another tree, which they had frequented earlier,” he said, adding that the change will not affect the bats.

However, the locals have yet to experience their grief as the tree has brought an identity to their village for decades. They hope the aerial roots of the uprooted tree will grow steadily for decades to come and once again become a haven for bats.

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