Vandals firing AK-47 rifles and shotguns at one of Lebanon's most important bat caves massacred some 5,000 fruit bats – out of a colony of about 7,000 – about a year ago. The senseless slaughter was discovered in January 2012 by Dr. Mounir Abi-Said, founder of Animal Encounter, a Lebanese wildlife conservation group. He turned to Bat Conservation International for help, and now he's reporting dramatic success.
|Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus). Photo © Merlin D. Tuttle, BCI / 1252303
Abi-Said, who is also a biology professor at American University of Beirut, said the cave was littered with shotgun pellets, bullet casings, and spent fireworks, as well as evidence of several fires. "Bats used to cover the whole ceiling area of the cave, but now only a few remain," he told a newspaper at the time. Abi-Said has been monitoring the cave since 2007.
He said he has no idea who devastated the bat colony, but many people in the Middle East needlessly fear bats because of a long history of myths and misunderstanding. Few realize fruit bats' important role in spreading seeds of fruit trees and other plants across the landscape. Other bat species in Lebanon help control insect pests that attack farm crops.
Lebanon's bat caves desperately needed government protection and neighboring communities needed a healthy dose of education to learn why they should protect the caves and conserve their bats, he told BCI.
BCI was able to provide advice and funding that helped Abi-Said conduct a public-outreach project and a workshop for cavers and others on why and how to protect the fruit bats of the cave.
A year later, he visited the cave once again and this time, "I have good news," he told Dave Waldien, BCI's Director of International Programs. "When I went to the cave, I was followed by the municipality police, who questioned what I was doing and if I had permission. That was great. Inside, the colony was in very good shape with lots of juveniles. I estimate that the population has almost doubled since the massacre."
This success in Lebanon, Waldien said, "demonstrates the power of supporting and partnering with dedicated individuals and groups who are best equipped to overcome local challenges with local solutions. Bat Conservation International is proud to have helped empower such people."