This is a news release that Fauna & Flora International sent out to various newspapers, sites, blogs and radio stations around the world just in time for Halloween! The story has been carried by National Geographic, Bloomberg, Sky News, BBC Radio World Service, The Cambridge News, Ecoworldly among many others! We are so happy that there is a positive message in the news!
Cambridge, 31 October, 2008 – A once critically endangered bat species, the ‘Pemba flying fox’, has made a dramatic return from the brink of extinction, according to a new piece of research. As recently as 1989, only a scant few individual fruit bats could be observed on the tropical island of Pemba, off Tanzania . Its numbers have since soared to an astounding 22,000 bats in less than 20 years, the new research finds.
This remarkable recovery is testament to the successful emergency intervention efforts of international conservation organisation Fauna & Flora International (FFI), working closely with their local partner, the Department of Commercial Crops, Fruits and Forestry (DCCFF).
The FFI-initiated survey demonstrates that the Pemba flying fox, a type of fruit bat that lives only on Pemba island in the Zanzibar archipelago off Tanzania, is a true conservation success story – sadly something which is all too rare. The species (scientific name Pteropus voeltzkowi) was facing imminent extinction in the 1990′s when FFI first took action to save it. It is one of Africa’s largest bat species, with a wingspan of 5 ½ feet – greater than the height of the average British woman. Once considered a delicacy, these charismatic bats were hunted and eaten widely throughout the island. By the 1990s the bats looked doomed, with 95% of its forest habitat destroyed and an extremely slow reproductive rate (just one young per adult female each year).
This latest survey indicates that the Pemba flying fox population has fully recovered to at least 22,000 but possibly up to 35,600 individuals. In fact, several of the species’ sleeping roosts are now home to over 1000 bats. This amazing resurgence proves that conservation can work, even in the most dire-seeming situations, if the right actions are taken at the right moment.
Over the past 13 years, FFI has helped to reduce the threat from hunting, set up two new forest reserves to safeguard the bat’s habitat and raised awareness of the need for conservation throughout Pemba’s communities. The species has now been downgraded to ‘Vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List for threatened species.
Today Pemba flying foxes are much loved by islanders, with nearly 100% of local people expressing support for their conservation in a recent opinion poll. In fact, community-led “Pemba flying fox clubs”, which help protect the bat through education and monitoring, have been popping up all over the island.
FFI East Africa Programme Assistant, Joy Juma, has played a crucial role in FFI’s efforts to save the bat.
“Less than twenty years ago this bat looked set to disappear off the face of the planet forever. Thanks to the enthusiasm of local people, FFI’s ongoing conservation efforts have managed to claw this species back from the brink of extinction,” said Joy. “At one time roast bat was a very common dish on Pemba. Now people value the bats for different reasons.”
FFI is continuing efforts to conserve the Pemba flying fox and is calling for support for the “Pemba flying fox clubs”. The organisation is also broadening its work to develop the island’s ecotourism potential. Several community tour guides have already been trained and a visitor’s centre has been constructed to help local people benefit from the successful recovery of the Pemba flying fox.
Flying Fox Facts:
* The Pemba flying fox is a type of ‘old world fruit bat’, endemic to the island of Pemba, Tanzania, meaning it cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
* The bat’s wingspan is estimated at over 5.5 feet – greater than the height of the average British woman.
* The bat has an average body weight of between 400-650g, which is about half the weight of the average guinea pig.
* Fruit bats are ecologically and economically important – particularly so on oceanic islands – playing a vital role as seed dispersers and pollinators and facilitating ‘gene flow’ between isolated populations of plants.
* Flying foxes belong to the sub-order Megachiroptera, of which there are 167 species worldwide, and are the largest bats in the world.
* Island endemic species are thought to be particularly vulnerable to extinction, primarily due to their small geographic range. The fact that they have evolved in isolation from predators and competitors (particularly humans), makes them vulnerable to the effects of overexploitation and introduced species.
* Islands have been highlighted as one of the priority areas for the global conservation of bats, as they contain a large proportion of the world’s most threatened bats.
The report The Endemic Pemba Flying Fox Pteropus voeltzkowi: Population and Conservation Status by Janine Robinson is available upon request.
A selection of stunning, high resolution photographs of the Pemba flying foxes in flight and roosting in trees are also available upon request.
About Fauna & Flora International (FFI) (www.fauna-flora.org) FFI protects threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are sustainable, based on sound science and take account of human needs. Operating in more than 40 countries worldwide – mainly in the developing world – FFI saves species from extinction and habitats from destruction, while improving the livelihoods of local people. Founded in 1903, FFI is the world’s longest established international conservation body and a registered charity.