Around 22,000 “large flying foxes” — the largest fruit bat in the world — are legally killed every year in Peninsular Malaysia by hunters. At this rate, scientists say the bat could go extinct in the near future.
As published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, researchers surveyed these bats in 33 sites across Peninsular Malaysia. They repeatedly counted bats at eight of these sites from 2003 to 2007. According to the press release by EurekAlert!, they found that these bats actually travel as far as Indonesia and Thailand. “(Researchers) also used satellite transmitters attached to bats to see how far the species migrated and found that they travel from Malaysia to Indonesia and Thailand. This is the first study of its kind on flying foxes in Asia.”
The bat (technically called Pteropus vampyrus) is killed for food, medicine and sport across Malaysia and in Southeast Asia. These bats are important in the rainforest for dispersing seeds and pollinating plants.
According to the researchers, the level of hunting today (not even taking illegal hunting and killing of bats as agricultural pests into account) is likely to drive the bat to extinction sometime between 6 and 81 years. The press release states: “this rate was unsustainable even with the most optimistic population level of 500,000 assumed by their model.”
Cross-Border Management Needed to Protect the Bat
The authors declare that this is a regional issue, now that they’ve determined that these bats migrate up to 60 km a night and hundreds of kilometers from roost to roost. Lead author, Dr. Jonathan Epstein, says: “”Now that we know that these bats migrate between Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, coordinated assessments of their status throughout their range will be important for developing effective management strategies. Any additional hunting pressure on this species that occurs in Thailand or Indonesia may hasten the population’s decline.” In their conclusions, the authors focus on the idea that this should be taken up on a regional rather than a national level.
The authors also recommend a temporary ban on hunting. The population needs to revive and researchers want to engage in a more comprehensive study. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife, who reviews hunting licenses for the bat, is considering this idea.
Image Credit 1: afagen via flickr under a Creative Commons license
Image Credit 2: afagen via flickr under a Creative Commons license