Winner avatar
2021 Whitley Award
Iroro Tanshi Terrestrial
Bats from the brink: Participatory action to save the short-tailed roundleaf bat

Bats are some of the world’s most maligned mammals, feared as witches in Nigeria despite facilitating farming through pest control and pollination. Iroro will work with communities and the next generation of conservationists to save the short-tailed roundleaf bat, after discovering the Nigeria’s first and only population.

BATS DISCOVERED

The short-tailed roundleaf bat had not been seen in the wild for 45 years. It was thought to occur only in Cameroon and Bioko until Iroro and the Small Mammal Conservation Organisation discovered a group of just 15 individuals in south-eastern Nigeria in 2016. With all previously known roosts destroyed, this population is the last confirmed site for the species.

Whitley Award winner Iroro Tanshi

HUMAN THREATS

Habitat loss and cave disturbance are the main drivers of decline across its range. Forest fires spread from farmland during annual brush burning. Meanwhile, as COVID-19’s economic fallout forces more people to forage for bushmeat, fruit bat hunting is having an increasingly disruptive impact on roosts.

Juvenile short-tailed roundleaf bat at cave entrance

COMMUNITY COLLABORATION

Iroro will now expand her work from Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and Cross River National Park to the Mbe Mountains, locating new caves and tracking bats to better understand their distribution. As well as identifying roosts for protection, she will address the drivers of their decline. Iroro will work with communities to replace hunting with other sources of protein, to establish a wildfire early warning system and emergency taskforce, and to find alternatives to agricultural burning. Finally, her team will train in-country leaders to secure the future of conservation in Nigeria.

Iroro Tanshi training students

Iroro and her team will:

  • Install early-warning systems and set up fire-fighting forces across four communities, to eliminate wildfires that destroy forest habitat.
  • Discover new roosting caves with monitoring patrols then advocate for their protection.
  • Reduce fruit bat hunting by 50% whilst offering protein alternatives, to curtail cave disturbance and help populations of short-tailed roundleaf bats recover.
  • Inspire the next generation of in-country conservationists to ensure long-term success in Nigeria.

Top facts:

  • The highest rate of deforestation in the world is happening here, across Iroro’s project site.
  • Insectivorous bats are considered witches in Nigeria despite facilitating farming through natural pest control and pollination.
  • The short-tailed roundleaf bat has unusually large ears for its family, complete with a small button in the middle of its nose.

“At the heart of this programme will be capacity building of in-country scientists and conservationists who will lead the future of African research.” Iroro Tanshi

Film credits: Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP), Icon Films.