August 25, 2009
To discover if current hunting is sustainable, Dr. Johnathan Epstein, a veterinary epidemiologist with the Wildlife Trust, and his team surveyed bat populations on Peninsular Malaysia from 2003 and 2007 and compared their findings with the number of hunting licenses issued by the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
Threatened by unsustainable hunting the large flying fox is the world's largest bat by wingspan. It also plays an important role as a seed disperser. Photo by: Jonathan Epstein.
"Our models suggest that hunting activity over the period between 2002 and 2005 in Peninsular Malaysia is not sustainable, and that local populations of Pteropus vampyrus are vulnerable to extinction," Epstein said. In fact, due to this hunting pressure and habitat loss, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) upgraded the large flying fox's status from Least Concern to Near Threatened in 2008.
In addition to surveying populations, Epstein and his team attached satellite transmitters to seven individual bats to see where the animals were moving and how far. They found that the greater flying fox could travel up to 60 kilometers (nearly 40 miles) in one night searching for food before returning to its roost, but when changing roosts the bat can fly hundreds of kilometers, crossing international boundaries, which may complicate conservation initiatives.
"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," Epstein said.
Currently, there is no unified program between the countries. The bats are heavily hunted in both Peninsular Malaysia and Indonesia, while it is illegal to hunt them in Malaysian Borneo and Thailand.
To save the species, Epstein and his colleagues recommend a temporary ban on hunting in the region to allow the greater flying fox time to recover current population loss. In light of Epstein's study the Department of National Parks and Wildlife in Malaysia is currently reviewing their hunting policy.
The large flying fox has a wingspan reaching six feet (nearly two meters). It is hunted for food, medicine, and sport. Although hunting is not the only threat to the large flying fox's future, the species is also losing habitat across its range due to rampant deforestation.
Citation: Jonathan H. Epstein et al (2009). Pteropus vampyrus, a hunted migratory species with a multinational home-range and a need for regional management, Journal of Applied Ecology, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2009.01699.x, is published on 26 August 2009
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