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.


First of all I must apologize for the lack of updates! The last couple of months have been very busy in the field.  Since the arrival of our volunteer, we have been conducting a comprehensive survey of all the Pemba Flying Fox roosts on the island.  Janine is studying for her MSc in Applied Ecology and Conservation at the University of East Anglia in the UK, and is going to be updating this blogg for the next few weeks while completing her research project on the island.  So far things have been going great, apart from a few delays with fuel, power shortages and some heavy rains work has been continuing successfully.

Volunteer at last!

Finally we got a volunteer!

Thank you to all who have shown interest in the volunteer position. We are very grateful to see that very many people are interested in the helping us here in Pemba. Unfortunately we can only take in one volunteer at a time. We have finally selected one who is due to come to Pemba in mid March and we are looking forward to her arrival!
She is a Masters student from the Uk and she will undertake some research on the current population and distribution of the Pemba Flying Fox. She will undertake a population survey with the team on the Island that conducts these surveys routinely to get an estimate of the population.
The methods used are a direct count and a patch count. During the last priority roost survey ( This is a survey of some select roost sites) in October 2007 the total population was 16,451 individuals compared to the previous year’s population of 15,049. These surveys assist in monitoring the population trend. She will also map out the distribution of the Pemba Flying Fox on the Island. It would be great to have that.
The volunteer will therefore assist us in publishing the results of the surveys conducted, in the Fauna & Flora International Conservation Journal known as the Oryx.
Will be sure to post a link to the publication once it’s done!
Finally she will also help me with updating the blog and training a few representatives from the Pemba Flying Fox Associations on how to use the blog. We couldnt be more grateful.
That’s it for now on the the Pemba Flying Fox.

We need a volunteer!

Hello everybody!
As you can see we are thinking of taking on a volunteer researcher. We are looking for someone who would like to spend a period of 3-6 months on the Island to carry out some research on the Pemba Flying Fox. They may however suggest other research topics which we could considered.
You must be an easy going person, flexible and friendly. You must also respect the people’s culture and be ready to live in a remote but beautiful place.
We would also like the person to assist us in updating the blog daily. I will post the specific terms of reference soon.

Update on the Kidike Information Centre……..

Well, the centre is complete and its looks wonderful. We have had quite a number of visitors and they like it too! We would like someone to design some good interpretation material, please contact me if you would like to help with this.


Hello everyone, am sorry I have been away for so long. I got really sick and couldnt do very much but I am now better and can now work. I decided to post a few facts about the Pemba Flying Fox for those who have never really heard of it or seen it.

  • Also known as Pteropus voeltzkowi
  • It is a large fruit bat weighing about 400-650g (0.9-1.4lb)
  • They have a gestation period of 5 months
  • They birth between August and September
  • Males are larger with a darker red pigmentation
  • To fly they dont “jump” they “free-fall”
  • It is very social and can be found in large colonies hence protecting themselves and it is believed they share information about good foraging sites
  • It is the only bat species endemic to an African country
  • They are so called because of their fox-like faces
  • They cannot use echolation but use vision and normal hearing as opposed to othe insect eating bats that use echolation
  • In the mid nineties the population was estimated to be about 3,000. In the recent survey we conducted the population is approximately estimated to be about 19,000
  • The Pemba Flying Fox was listed as Critically endangered by the IUCN Red List in 1992, it is now listed as vulnerable due to the gradual increase of the population as conservation efforts have been intensified over the years.

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Of bats and legends!

Hey all, I mentioned a legends in one of my posts. So here goes…….
The people on Pemba Island have many legends regarding bats, one of them is that some bats actually take on a human form at night and attack humans! This may be somehow related to the vampire bat urban legend!!!!
One such legend was covered by the BBC, which you can check out here. This bat is believed to attack people at night and has been blamed for assaulting women on the island. Of course these are just myths, but we believed them as we were growing up… some of us still believe in them.

Various links….that you may want to look at!

Below are some interesting links on some of the conservation efforts on the Island

Lubee Bat Conservation Programs



Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund

Kidike Pemba Flying Fox Association

Well I promised to post some pictures of the Information Centre at the Kidike, which was the first to form an association. The pictures show the previous information centre built by the communities at Mjini Ole and the construction of the new information centre with support from the Department of Comercial Crops Fruits and Forestry and Fauna and Flora International. The community have been active in the conservation of the bat, its amazing!

The Kidike signpost

Kidike Sign Post

Old Information Centre
Old Kidike Information Centre 2

Old Kidike Information Centre

Old Interpretation board
The communities have to carry this home every evening!
Interpretation board

New Information Centre under construction
Early Stage of construction-Kidike

We are now looking for someone who can help us with the interpretation material for the centre, perhaps someone can provide some assistance!
We want Kidike to be a model that can be replicated around the Island…..they have come so far!