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Volume 34, Issue 2, Spring 2015

Culture and Conservation

Talking Bats in Papa New Guinea

One of the many words for “bats” in the native pidgin languages of Bougainville is “Bilak bokis,” meaning black fox. Dave Waldien, BCI Senior Director of Global Conservation, is slowly learning many of these words with the help of Rotokas Ecotourism Group (RET), a local Civil Society organization established by members of the Rotokas people in the Wakunai District of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. Together, they are building partnerships with the clans of Wakunai to conserve the Region’s bats by working in ways that respect the culture of the local people.

Bougainville is the largest island in the Solomon Islands archipelago and is the main island of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville of Papua New Guinea. It is home to two species of monkey-faced bats, Pteralopex anceps and P. flanneryi, both listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. These bats are called “Vuvuai” in the Rotokas language, a dialect spoken within a region stretching across the island from the east to the west coast and the area of focus for BCI and RET engagement efforts.

In February, Waldien, accompanied by RET Co-Founders Pedro Uravutu and Junias Repiriri, visited four villages across the region, meeting with the Council of Elders and multiple clans to discuss launching a sustainable bat conservation initiative with the clans in a manner that respected their local culture. Waldien’s presentations spurred great discussions on the connections between environmental health and the culture of the Wakunai people. The elders from all of the clans were very interested and supportive of the bat conservation message, and collectively endorsed the educational and conservation initiatives BCI aims to develop with them.

This cultural dialogue is the first step in a long-term effort to help conserve the bats of Bougainville through community education, cooperation and empowerment. Through these partnerships, BCI hopes to achieve meaningful conservation outcomes not only for the endangered Bougainville monkey-faced bats, but for all bats species on the island.

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