Located over 1,000 miles off the southwest coast of Africa lies the island nation of Mauritius. A top tourist destination, Mauritius is sometimes referred to as a modern-day Eden. This is hardly the case, however, for one of the islands largest endemic mammals, the Mauritius fruit bat. Just recently in October of 2018, the government of Mauritius announced their decision to kill 13,000 of these endangered bats. BCI stands with the international community in strongly opposing this decision.
These killings, as announced, will reduce the remaining worldwide population of this endangered bat by another 20 percent. Killings in 2015 and 2016 resulted in 38,000 individual deaths, causing the Mauritius fruit bat to be become endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Illegal hunting, accidental mortality due to powerlines and mortality due to natural disasters, such as cyclones, continue to severely threaten this bat species. Reducing the population of these island-dwelling bats to dangerously small numbers will push this species even closer to the brink of extinction.
The Mauritius fruit bat is a large flying fox that is found only on the islands of Mauritius and Runion. These bats play a vital role on the island as seed dispersers of native rainforest trees, and for some plants the bat is the only native seed disperser. But natural forest is now desperately scarce on the island due to deforestation. Only 5 percent of native forest habitat remains on the island. Without enough native trees to provide food, the bats have learned to forage in fruit orchards to survive.
Fruit growers worry that fruit bats cause substantial amounts of damage to important crops such as lychee and mangos. Recent research shows that significant damage to fruit crops is also due to other animals, primarily non-native birds and rats, as well as natural fruit fall. Killing Mauritius fruit bats is counter to existing scientific evidence that shows previous culls did not result in increased fruit production or profit.
There are solutions other than killing. A recent study shows that netting fruit trees can result in a 23-fold reduction in fruit damage by bats. Tree netting has been successful in Australia and Israel to reduce damage by fruit bats and can protect both fruit crops and bats in Mauritius. Non-lethal solutions such as netting and pruning, or research on other deterrents can offer protection for both farmers and bats.
BCI stands with the IUCN and the global community in appealing to the Mauritian government to immediately stop killing of the Mauritius fruit bat. BCI advocates and supports ongoing work to develop and implement evidence-based, effective, non-lethal strategies to reduce conflicts between fruit growers and the Mauritius fruit bat. Programs such as the Fruit Protection Scheme, which encourages farmers to purchase tree nets to protect against fruit bats, and workshops involving local stakeholders to identify solutions to protect fruit crops and bats are the steps needed to develop sustainable coexistence.