While relatively little is known about bats across much of Africa, globally, many bat populations are in decline due to human activities. Successful bat conservation efforts, therefore, depend on both ecological studies and research on human-bat relationships. To address these knowledge gaps about African bats and their interactions with humans, we used semi-structured interviews of pastoralists in northwestern Namibia to assess local experiences with, attitudes toward, and cultural stories about bats. Our research was conducted in conjunction with an ecological study on Namib Desert bat distributions, thus allowing for a broader understanding of the social-ecological dynamics of human-bat interactions in this region. Though only 65% of interviews were able to correctly identify bats from photographs, 100% classified these species as bats when provided with an additional description of “animals that fly at night.” A majority (77%) of interviews expressed positive attitudes toward bats and over a third (38%) provided cultural stories, offering detailed reports of myths and common meanings assigned to bats. Of those stories, 12% indicated that bats brought good luck or good rains, and 84% specified that bats represented bad luck or omens of injuries, death, disease, or lack of rains. While the primary threats of habitat loss and bushmeat hunting were never mentioned in our interviews, the influence of negative cultural stories on individual behavior could pose challenges for future bat conservation initiatives. This qualitative approach combined with ecological research may be valuable for assessing cross-cultural relationships between humans and understudied wildlife in other remote areas.
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Vol. 41 • No. 1