On islands like Bougainville, where there is very little known about endangered bat species, engaging in cultural dialogue with local communities is the first step toward conservation.
The Autonomous Region of Bougainville is officially part of Papua New Guinea. The main island has seen its share of political conflict over the past century, including an invasion by the Japanese during World War II. Throughout much of modern history, it was under Australian control but became part of nearby Papua New Guinea in 1975 after a civil war. The island became autonomous in 1997.
Bougainville and the nearby island of Choiseul, the northern-most island of the Solomon Islands archipelago, are the only known locations for the Bougainville monkey-faced bat (Pteralopex anceps). In 2005, a second, very closely related species, the greater monkey-faced bat (Pteralopex flanneryi) was discovered in Bougainville. The IUCN Red List has these species as endangered and critically endangered, respectively, which is the impetus for BCI’s conservation engagement in the region.
The greater monkey-faced bat is thought to live only in undisturbed lowland rainforests and has disappeared from many of the places where it once flourished. Because Bougainville’s recent history includes political change and economic upheaval as well as sometimes-violent labor conflicts, getting ongoing data about the bats has been challenging.
“We are starting to ask what are the true sources of stress here for bats, and how can we relieve them,” says BCI Senior Director for Global Conservation Dave Waldien.
To answer these questions BCI is engaging with the local communities. Although the island is small in size, it is home to several diverse groups of Indigenous Peoples. BCI is working with the help of Rotokas Ecotourism Group (RET), a local Civil Society organization established by members of the Rotokas people in the Wakunai District, to build partnerships with the clans of the region.
Many of the clans that live across the island have traditions of living in harmony with their environment and retain valuable traditional knowledge of many bat species. By working with local clans, BCI hopes to launch a sustainable bat conservation initiative to address the issues of deforestation, hunting and lack of scientific information in a manner that respects local culture and empowers the communities.