When Pankaj Shahi, owner of a mango orchard in Belghat area, saw a few bats lying dead in a nearby orchard yesterday, he informed the forest officials.

By the time the forest team arrived, more bats dropped dead from the trees and the tally had gone up to 52.

Avanish Kumar, Divisional Forest Officer, said: “Three of the bat carcasses have been sent to Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) in Bareilly for examination to know the exact reason behind their death.

“The deaths could have occurred due to the heatwave or even pesticides. It is not right to link the death to Corona right away.”

However, within hours, people in Gorakhpur and adjoining areas were in a state of panic.

People have their own reasons for the panic – some logical, some illogical.

Ashok Varma, a senior citizen said, “We have experienced heatwaves earlier too and deaths on such a large scale have never taken place earlier. Besides, who keeps water for bats? There is something wrong about this though the officials are trying to downplay the issue. How can 52 bats drop dead within an hour?”

Vishesh Kumar Singh, who lives in Sahjanwa, insisted that the incident was linked to the Corona pandemic.

“I have seen on television that bats are responsible for the Coronavirus. Officials must take this seriously and act accordingly. We are all apprehensive because something like this has never happened before,” he said firmly.

Pandit Tripurari Mishra, a local pundit, meanwhile, added, “Bats are said to be representatives of Goddess Laxmi. We need to understand that mankind has been facing the fury of nature — be it the extreme cold and now the heatwave conditions, the Corona virus and the locust attack. The deaths of bats in such large number is another ominous sign.”

Mishra said that people should organize ‘pujas’ in their homes to atone for their sins and seek divine intervention.

Dhruv Narain Shahi, in whose orchard, the bats were found dead, however, refused to comment on the incident.