Africa is home to more than 250 species of bats, a remarkably diverse and beneficial collection of flying mammals that face dire threats throughout the continent. In many African countries, a few intensely dedicated individuals struggle, with scant support and limited resources, to protect their beleaguered bats. Now the long-isolated bat conservationists of Africa have joined together to create a continent-wide collaboration – a network called Bat Conservation Africa (BCA).
Thirty bat specialists from 19 African countries launched the unprecedented network February 15, during an intense weeklong African Bat Conservation Summit at the Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute in Naivasha, Kenya.
Participants in the first African Bat Conservation Summit. Photo © Bat Conservation International
BCA is uniquely African, but it incorporates modified elements of existing bat-conservation networks. A dozen conservationists from the United States, Europe, Latin America and Australia shared their experiences in building similar networks in Latin America, Southeast Asia, South Asia and elsewhere.
Ultimately, the network hopes to improve communication and collaboration among the dedicated but widely scattered conservationists of Africa, to identify key bat-conservation priorities and build conservation capacity throughout the continent. The immediate needs are to develop a Bat Conservation Africa website (a virtual headquarters) and an accessible list of members and their skillsets to enhance the sharing of ideas and data that marked the summit.
“There is a long list of things we need to do, but we have a very good plan and a lot of good people on our team,” said Robert Kityo of Uganda’s Makerere University. “Working together, we shall make this happen.” Kityo was elected to chair the steering committee of Bat Conservation Africa.
“I never imagined that Africa had such talented and passionate bat researchers,” Vikash Tatayah of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation in Mauritius said of the Summit. “This made me realize that African bats have their champions.”
Texas-based Bat Conservation International initiated the weeklong summit and worked with key partners to organize it. BCI provided core financing, including travel expenses for many of the delegates.
“This is an historic milestone, which marks a new era for bat conservation on the African continent,” said Dave Waldien, BCI Director of International Programs. “It is an honor to work with people so dedicated to bat conservation.”
Other members of the steering committee are Vice Chair Iroro Tanshi of the University of Benin in Nigeria; Eric Bakwo fils of the University of Maroua in Cameroon; Julie Razafimanahaka, director of Madagasikara Voakajy in Madagascar; and Ernest Seamark, Director of AfricanBats in South Africa.
African bats, although long ignored in the shadow of the continent’s “charismatic megafauna,” the lions, rhinos and elephants that fascinate the public, are critical for the ecological and economic health of Africa. Many species help protect agricultural crops by consuming huge quantities of insect pests, while fruit- and nectar-eating bats pollinate important plants and scatter seeds that help restore damaged forests.
Yet the bat populations are declining in much of Africa due to loss of habitat, disturbance of cave roosts, overuse of pesticides and bushmeat hunting. And they are widely feared because of myths linking bats to witchcraft and evil spirits.
“I am very optimistic,” Tanshi said. “Now we are going to have a much brighter future for bat conservation in Africa.”
And of course, Kityo added, “We must build a strong capacity for fundraising. That’s what makes our dreams possible.”
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