"You keep the good and get rid of the bad," said the rancher, philosophic but wearied from the nocturnal attacks that have reached Transylvanian proportions of late, "and these little beasts are terrible."
More than 100 miles away, on an island research station in the middle of the Panama Canal, Stefan Klose begged to differ. He not only stuck up for Desmodus rotundus, the scientific name for the most common vampire bat, but described the animals as boons to humanity. Bat-based research led to the development of sonar and anti-coagulant medicines that prevent heart attacks, he pointed out, and scientists are only beginning to understand the creatures.
"I certainly defend vampire bats' right to a place in the ecosystem," said Klose, a young German zoologist who does fieldwork at the Barro Colorado tropical scientific center run by the Smithsonian Institute. People's irrational reaction to vampires, he said, reflects "our primal fear of being someone else's food object."
`Sweet and peaceful sight'
Klose also confessed a fondness for the creatures. The scientist said feeding time, when the bats accept bits of banana from his hand, is a "really sweet and peaceful sight. It always reminds me of how close these animals are to us and how incredibly intelligent they are--certainly more exotic and wilder than my neighbor's dog, but no less smart or cuddly."
Few animals inspire the repugnance and fascination of vampire bats, and perhaps nowhere are opinions more divided than in Panama, with 120 bat species. Bats are found globally except in Antarctica, but thrive in the tropical rain forests that cover much of Panama because of a plenitude of…