Conserving Mangoro’s Madagascar Flying Foxes

The island of Madagascar is home to three species of endemic fruit bat, the largest of which is the Madagascar flying fox (Pteropus rufus). These spectacular flying mammals are thought to be very important in the pollination and dispersal of forest plants, as Madagascar has a comparatively small number of bird pollinators or frugivores.

Unfortunately, almost no data exist on plants visited by Madagascar’s flying foxes in the rainforest and while there is growing evidence that bats are crucial to forest propagation elsewhere on the island, the role of bats in long distance seed dispersal has been largely unstudied in the eastern humid forests.

This information gap is the cause of much concern for conservationists, but there is hope that by helping local people to understand the ecological services provided by flying foxes through research, bats can be levered onto the conservation agenda. All species of flying fox are classed as game species in Madagascar and can be legally hunted with permits from May to September. Hunting, in combination with forest clearance, bush fires, and a general lack of understanding of the bats, has led to a rapid state of decline for the Madagascar Flying Fox, and in September 2004, the re-classification of the species as ‘Vulnerable’ by IUCN.

Richard Jenkins, a British ecologist involved in Madagascan conservation efforts since 1992, is leading an important project to improve our understanding of the Madagascan Flying Foxes in the unprotected forest fragments of the Alaotra-Mangoro Region, Eastern Madagascar. Through adopting an integrated approach to conservation and working in partnership with grassroots Malagasy NGOs, Richard and his team are conducting education, training, community management and status assessment initiatives, which he hopes will lead to better protection of flying foxes across the region.

A key goal of the project is the creation of a bat protected area and the development of a new Malagasy conservation organisation, called Madagasikara Voakajy, which is the only team on the island dedicated to bat conservation. By bringing together all fruit bat expertise, survey, research and management techniques under one forum, a dynamic and effective team of Malagasy fruit bat biologists capable of addressing emerging bat conservation problems on the island will be formed.

Working with a local partner (ACCE) in Moramanga, the 12 month work programme began on 1st October 2005. Workshops and field visits have been conducted in seven districts already and protection has been given to at least 15 flying fox roosts by a community charter (dina) – a local law that is prepared and enforced by local people. With growing national press coverage of the project community work, and a study on fruit bat and local community conflict (the bats eat litchi fruits) in Anosy Be An’Ala recently initiatied, it is hoped a brighter future for flying foxes in Madagascar will be secured.

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