The socio-economic interviews have been really interesting, and are a nice opportunity to sit down with the villagers and take a break from the hot sun. We have been talking to three main groups of people; the conservation club members that have been set up in some areas around important roosts, the wider public, and school children (who are considered principal players in the future conservation issues of the island). We are discussing general knowledge on the flying foxes, intriguing stories, and key conservation issues.
The fluffy bodies, great wings, and mysterious behavior of the Flying Foxes causes some degree of confusion. A few villagers have proposed that that the flying foxes are half birds and half mammals, because of their ability to fly. Some children have even described them as big insects. Most however, know that they are mammals, as they produce young and generate milk like other mammalian species.
We are hoping to make a general assessment of fruit damage by the bats and assess through these interviews the possible conflicts with man where the bats feed on these fruit crops. This may have an important implication for the future conservation of the Pemba Flying Fox if the numbers continue to increase.
We are also discussing what control measures they have for problem animals on the island. So far it seems that the people think that the bats do cause some damage but other animals, such as monkeys and bush babies, cause more severe damage. The Flying Foxes especially like mangoes, jackfruit, bananas, bread fruit and papaya – which are of course all fruits used by the local population to eat and sell. However they only really eat fruits such as mango when they are very ripe. Many villagers therefore have the opportunity to harvest the fruit in time, and whatever’s left then goes to the bats!
The Pemba Vervet Monkey (or green monkey), locally called ‘tumbili’ seem to cause the most problems – as they not only eat fruit but also raid other staple crops such as cassava. It’s a tough situation when you have people and wildlife competing for resources – especially on islands where the pressure for land can be intense. We’ve met a few troops of these monkeys on our travels looking for bats – they normally end up positioned in a tree appearing to shout abuse at us. Although this could be in response to one of our team members realistic ability to make monkey noises at them in the first place!