Category Archives: Bats

Overwhelming interest…

Bat in Flight- Credit E Bowen Jones, FFI

Bat in flight- Credit E.Bowen Jones-FFI

Ever since we released the media update, we have received lots of interest from people all over the world. It was very useful as it created awareness on the bat and conservation work on the Island. As shown is some of the media coverage received

Compilation of Pemba flying fox media coverage

National Geographic News  October 30 2008 Online Full page web story

Bloomberg  October 30 2008 Online Full page web story

Scientific American  October 30 2008 Online Small web story

World News Network October 31 2008 Online Full page web story

Edmonton Jornal (Canada)  October 31 2008 Online Full page web story

SkyNews online  October 31 2008 Online Full page web story

BBC Radio 4 Today show  October 31 2008 Radio 10 second brief

Reuters October 31 2008 Online Small web story

TVNZ  October 31 2008 Online Small web story

Tiscali  October 31 2008 Online Small web story

Independent (South Africa)  October 31 2008 Online Small web story

Reuters Japan  October 31 2008 Online Small web story

Reuters China  October 31 2008 Online Small web story

PlanetARK  October 31 2008 Online Small web story

News24 October 31 2008 Online Small web story

The Globe and Mail  October 31 2008 Online Small web story October 31 2008 Online Small web story

The US Daily October 31 2008 Online Small web story

STV No October 31 2008 Online Small web story

Javno (Croatia) October 31 2008 Online Small web story

Ecoworldly October 31 2008 Online Small web story

Daily Express October 31 2008 Print – pg 18 Small item

Cambridge Evening News  October 31 2008 Print – pg14 3/4 page, large photo

BBC World Service  October 31 2008 Radio Short news story

MSNBC (USA)  October 31 2008 Online Small web story

ITV Anglia News  October 31 2008 TV Short story

Discovery Channel (Canada)  October 31 2008 TV

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire October 31 2008 Radio Short news story

BBC Online  October 31 2008 Online The Big Picture

A South African filming crew that produces programmes for the German National Broadcaster, is interested in filming the bats and some people on the Island. It would be great for the Island. We hope we can manage to do this and we will be sure to post a clip on the blog!

We are also looking into forming a forum for bat monitoring covering the Western Indian Ocean. We would like all bat lovers and people directly involved in bat monitoring within this region to join us. Please email us on [email protected]

We are attending a fruit bat workshop in Mauritius next week. All the bat people in the region and beyond will be attending. We look forward to that and will provide a short update on it!

Thank you for reading!

Doomed Tanzanian Bat Makes Dramatic Come-back!

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) ( 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.

Final thoughts

The last month has seen me back behind my laptop dealing with excel spreadsheets and data analysis.  It must have been my karma for the wonderful months spent roaming tropical paradise on Pemba Island.  I pinned up some maps of Pemba and pictures of the Flying Foxes on my wall, to help me remember them, as believe it or not – I miss observing them.  They are full of such character and really are fantastically interesting creatures.  Occasionally I see seed pods in the trees in the UK and my eyes are so tuned into bat searching that for a second I might forget where I am! If I miss seeing the bats around, I cannot imagine how much Pemba would do so, if they had become extinct or reduced to such a critical level, as was once imminent.  The bats are such an important part of the Island.  They have played a role in pollination and seed dispersal for many years, which is evident when stumbling across mango trees in the most remote and sparsely inhabited areas – it was not people who planted these trees, but the bats!  They are part of the history and culture of the Island, whether as magical spirits in legends, as a traditional food source or as forest regenerators, they define Pemba and now make the perfect flagship species.

Kidike Roost.  How many bats can you count!  kidike-roost.jpg

Photo J. Robinson 

Conservation of this species on Pemba has been a success story.  The last few months of research have revealed an absolute minimum population of 18,000 – 22,000 Pemba Flying Foxes!  This might sound like a lot, but it is important that we don’t give up on these bats as they are still in danger from habitat loss and hunting, amongst other threats.   It is the local communities who live side by side with the Pemba Flying Fox and have been working to protect it.  This is not always straightforward to do so during times of poverty, when food is scarce and with little alternative means of income.  When you look up Pemba Island on the internet you read about a lush green island with fantastic diving, spice tours and secluded pristine bays, but what I think helps make the island so special is this wonderful Endemic Flying Fox.  It would be a shame if anybody visiting the island didn’t drop in to visit the Pemba Flying Fox and in doing so support the communities who are working hard to secure their future (bats and people)!

Children on the beach, Pemba.


Photo J. Robinson 

Welcome sign at Kidike Pemba Flying Fox roost.kidike-welcome-sign.jpg 

Photo C. Farese 

Evening view of Pemba Island


Photo C. Farese

Flashing Flying Foxes

I noticed a behavioural response amongst the Pemba Flying Foxes that intrigued me.  The bats natural predators on Pemba are likely to be birds of prey, and humans.   I saw the bats exhibit the behaviour twice; once when a bird of prey swooped in close to the colony from above, and once when my field assistant approached the edge of the colony from the ground to take a GPS reading.  A large number of the bats simultaneously opened their wings, and the movement travelled across the colony like a Mexican wave.  Now it could be that they were just preparing to take off if the threat was considered great enough.  But it appeared to me that it may have been a defence mechanism and they were flashing their wings and revealing their russet chests to appear bigger, and startle the predator.  I would be interested to know if anyone else has observed this behaviour in Flying Foxes.

Pemba Flying Foxes stretching in mid day sun Pemba Flying Foxes stretching in mid day sun

Photo kindly provided by Denise Déziel

Locating Pemba Flying Foxes in the Primeval Ngezi Forest

Last night we visited Ngezi Forest for the second time to search for the Pemba Flying Fox roost known to be within the vicinity somewhere.  On the first visit, we failed to locate them in the thick forest and it had also been raining heavily which may have caused them to hide.  Ngezi forest is the largest remaining indigenous forest tract in Pemba and is representative of the type of vegetation that was once thought to cover much of the Island.  It is a majestic place full of tall old trees and a thousand shades of green.  The understory and vines make hiking difficult if you venture off the path – which of course the Flying Foxes do! The forestry ranger at Ngezi prepared in advance for us to find the bats and managed to locate them before hand – he is an expert tracker and knows the forest very well as you could easily get lost without him.  After 40 minutes hiking we located the roost. 

 Inside Ngezi Forest 


Photo J Robinson

In some areas the bats are quite nervous and will take flight at the scent of humans, but here they obviously felt safe enough and protected by the powerful old forest, as they hardly noticed our arrival. They kept their wings wrapped tightly around them as if in sleeping bags. Whereas in most of the graveyards where the bats roost, they chose the tallest emergent trees with the thickest vegetation and often cluster together, in Ngezi they were scattered on low trees with empty branches. The foliage appeared to have been stripped off the branches by continual use and these branches were bent like coat hangers from the weight of the bats. After making a patch count estimate of the bats and admiring some more of the tall trees on the way out we positioned ourselves for a night count. Again our ranger took us to the perfect position to get a great view of the emerging bats.

Pemba Flying Foxes roosting on denuded branches within Ngezi  ngezi-roost.jpg 

Photo C. Farese

Ngezi forest was a hive of activity as night fell, the frogs started calling in their remarkably loud voices, bush babies emerged from their daily hiding places and started bouncing about the trees – possibly bouncing into each other judging by the surprised and angry exclamations they were making!  As the bats started emerging we had to check ourselves for not mixing them up with the silhouetted birds that were also flying at this time. We witnessed one bat make an extremely fast and dramatic dive to avoid a duck – which was a surprise divergence from their usual relaxed, straight and powerful flight. We counted 834 of the flying foxes on this evening, and are approaching a total population count for this vulnerable species.

Pemba Flying Foxes in green cities

I read in a paper by Enwistle and Corp (1997) that the Pemba Flying Foxes like roosting in graveyards – and I can now understand exactly why!  There is a graveyard in most villages, and it is the only place which is usually completely undisturbed.  The people here believe that if they disturb the graveyard and cut the trees, they are disturbing their ancestors sleep.  The graveyards are an absolute heaven for animals as we have discovered as it is here that we have met chameleons, snakes, and most of our bats and monkeys.  The trees are so tall, thick in foliage and covered in climbers – that they resemble green skyscrapers, and the whole graveyard is like a fantastic green city.   

Unfortunately because these graveyards are so close to human habitation they are still subject to some disturbance.  Agriculture and plantations often reach right up to the graveyard edge with no buffer zone.  The bats are protected in these areas and are also in a great position for finding fruit where people are planting them, but it’s uncertain how long these graveyards will remain undisturbed.

Typical village graveyard acts as a wildlife refuge


Photo J. Robinson

Discussing Conservation with the local Pemba people

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!


Night Flight of the Pemba Flying Fox

Being nocturnal, darkly-coloured and fast fliers, bats are notoriously difficult to count! The trees here on Pemba are large and thick in foliage which also makes counting a hard task. Because of the difficulties in counting the flying fox roosts, last week we decided to test some different methods of counting. We will be comparing the numbers we get from the evening dispersal counts with our patch count estimates to get an idea of whether there are any major over or under representations in the methods.

Evening dispersal counts are conducted at night as the bats leave the roost to forage. The teams take up positions around the roost with good view of the dispersing bats and wait for them to take flight. Yesterday we were in the South of the island watching a roost of approximately 1500 Pemba Flying Foxes. As it started to get dark and the sky was turning red, the animals started waking up. During the day they are often still and inactive, and because of their rusty coloured fur and black wings wrapped around them, they look almost like dead leaves or seeds hanging from the trees. This evening they really came to life and became quite animated and thoroughly enjoyable to watch. They started stretching their wings, scratching, and the occasional friendly squabble would break out amongst the odd individuals. A few individuals started flying in circles around the roost – perhaps testing the conditions or communicating with the others. However as soon as the sun had set, they took flight, as if on a serious mission. They fly powerfully and fast, and within about 20 minutes, they had nearly all gone apart from the last dots in the sky. What a wonderful experience!

Bats take-off after sensing danger


Photo C. Farese

Kidike Roost Site developments

Work is continuing at Kidike roost. This week the toilets are expected to be finished, becoming the first roost site with facilities! The staff here are always welcoming and proud of their roost. The roost is little bit different to many of the others on the island. The species of trees the bats are using are smaller and sparser, meaning this is a great place to get a good view of the bats and if you’ve got a good camera – even a good photo of these beautiful animals. This week we will be helping the environmental conservation club at Kidike to translate their new information brochure into English from Swahili.

Counting Flying Foxes!By Janine Robinson

First I want to say how happy I am to be working with these wonderful animals, and in such a beautiful place! The first time I saw flying foxes was in a forest in Northern Madagascar – they completely enchanted me and I remember thinking how much I would love to work with them in the future! And here I am. Counting all the Flying Fox roosts on the island is no easy task I can assure you! The flying foxes don’t always stay in the same roost, but regularly shift between sites and move according to season. The bats also roost on steep ridge tops, in thick forest, in mangroves, and on some of the small islets surrounding Pemba. It’s hard to predict when they are going to move – so we have to try and cover as much of the island as quickly as possible, to minimize the chance of double counting some of the bats or missing them completely. Without radio tagging these animals, much of their movements remain a mystery. The infrastructure is basic on Pemba Island, so some of these sites take a long time to reach by car, driving slowly to avoid the pot-holes and hoping it doesn’t rain and turn the whole road into a mud slick!

 Pemba Flying Fox in flight


Photo J. Robinson

As part of this project we are not only completing a comprehensive survey to get a recent population estimate and mapping the distribution of the Pemba Flying Fox, but we are also spending time talking with the community, to try and gage their feelings and attitudes towards the Pemba Flying Foxes. As flying foxes eat fruit, seeds and nectar there is potential for them to be viewed as pests by the local people – for damaging their fruit crops. Although so far the opinions are mixed, many people here seem to appreciate the role of the Pemba Flying Fox as a primary seed disperser, and they are often proudly referred to by the local people as ‘tree planters’. In many places the conservation education the DCCFF have been working on over the years appears to have been very effective in increasing understanding of the importance of these animals to this special island.