Researchers wearing headlamps and protective suits race to untangle the claws and wings of bats caught up in a big net after dark in the Philippine province of Laguna.
The tiny animals are carefully placed in cloth bags to be taken away, measured and swabbed, with details logged and saliva and faecal matter collected for analysis before they are returned to the wild.
Left: Cloth bags containing captured bats are hung outside a building with a bat roost at the University of the Philippines Los Banos. Right: Bat ecologist Phillip Alviola checks the wing of a bat.
The researchers call themselves the "virus hunters", tasked with catching thousands of bats to develop a simulation model they hope will help the world avoid a pandemic similar to COVID-19, which has killed nearly 2.8 million people.
The Japanese-funded model will be developed over the next three years by the University of the Philippines Los Banos, which hopes the bats will help in predicting the dynamics of a coronavirus by analysing factors such as climate, temperature and ease of spread, to humans included.
Left: Alviola catches a bat caught on a mist net set up in front of a building with a bat roost at the University of the Philippines Los Banos. Right: A bat is caught on a mist net.
"What we're trying to look into are other strains of coronavirus that have the potential to jump to humans," said ecologist Philip Alviola, the leader of the group, who has studied bat viruses for more than a decade.
"If we know the virus itself and we know where it came from, we know how to isolate that virus geographically."
Left: Alviola and Cosico sit and wait besides a mist net that they set up near a bat roost. Right: A mist net hangs in a forest at Mount Makiling.
Horseshoe bats figure in two of the scenarios of World Health Organization experts investigating the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
Host species, such as bats, usually display no symptoms of the pathogens, although they can be devastating if transmitted to humans or other animals.
Deadly viruses to have originated from bats include Ebola and other coronaviruses, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
Humans' exposure and closer interaction with wildlife meant the risk of disease transmission was now higher than ever, said bat ecologist Kirk Taray.
"By having baseline data on the nature and occurrence of the potentially zoonotic virus in bats, we can somehow predict possible outbreaks."
PHOTO EDITING MARIKA KOCHIASHVILI; WRITING MARTIN PETTY, EDITING KARISHMA SINGH; LAYOUT JULIA DALRYMPLE