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!
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.
Photo C. Farese
Evening view of Pemba Island
Photo C. Farese
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
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!
I work with Fauna & Flora International at the East African branch. We have been partners with the Department of Commercial Crops, Fruits and Forestry (DCCFF) Zanzibar for over 5 years. We have been working towards the conservation of the indigeneous forests and their resident endemic species in particular the Pemba Flying Fox. We have recently returned from an evaluation of progress made and brought back a collection of photographs. Hope you enjoy seeing beautiful Pemba!
Ngezi Vumawimbi Nature trail interpretation board
Road through the Ngezi Forest leading to the Ngezi Vumawimbi beach
Ngezi Vumawimbi beach
Women and Children of Pemba Island
Baskets made by women groups on Pemba Island up for sale!
These women produce these baskets to supplement their family income, we are currently looking for a market for their products as this seems to be the main challenge. Suggestions are welcome! J
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.