POPULAR PERCEPTIONS ABOUT BATS IN MARANHÃO, NORTHERN BRAZIL THAT OBSTACLES CONSERVATION ACTION
Bats play a fundamental role in the ecology of several environments, although the general lack of knowledge on the relevance of these animals, frustrate many initiatives that contribute to the development of favorable attitudes and participative measures, that promote the conservation of those animals and the ecosystems they inhabit. In the current study, 398 person of eight different neighborhoods from Caxias town in Maranhão state, Brazil, were interviewed to verify their perceptions of bats. The interviewees were between 17 and 91 years old, and two-thirds of them (263; 66%) were women, while the other 135 were men (34%). Most of the interviewees described bats as ugly and disgusting animals, that look like rats, feed primarily on fruits, and gets people scared. These individuals also confirmed that bats are important for nature and should be protected just for the fact that they are living creatures. The statistics results shows a significant association between the fear of bats and to think that these animals are real vampires, and also that women are more likely to have fear of bats than men. There was also an association between a low education level and the belief that all bats are vampires. The present study provides important insights into the perception of bats by the local population, highlighting the prevalence of mythical beliefs, which hinder the implementation of effective conservation measures. Its results reinforce the need for initiatives in environmental education that provide more reliable information on the biology of bats and their ecological importance, thereby contributing to the conservation of bat diversity.