Category Archives: Forests

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.

pemba-children.jpg

Photo J. Robinson 

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

Photo C. Farese 

Evening view of Pemba Island

pemba.jpg

Photo C. Farese

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 

 trees-in-ngezi-forest.jpg

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

 green-city.jpg

Photo J. Robinson