Bats are crucial members of our ecosystems, playing an integral role as pollinators for many crops and plants that do not have the ability to reproduce otherwise. Some 300 species of fruit-bearing plants are preferential to bat pollination, including bananas, peaches, guavas, and mangoes wouldn’t be available without bats. Without bats, the ability of these plants to reproduce would be halved. Love agave? Without bats, the agave plant would be eliminated completely as it fully relies on bat pollination.
With bats playing such a key part in the world’s biological community, it’s astonishing that the East African nation of Mauritius has purposely killed more than 18,000 of its fruit bats, also called endemic flying fox bats. As of December 2015, only an estimated 40,000 remain meaning that more than 50 percent of the world’s population has been slaughtered.
Why would the Mauritius government do such a thing? According to Born Free, the bats are being culled because farmers blame them for damaging crops, particularly mango trees. However, according to the World Wildlife Fund, fruit bats are responsible for only about 11 percent of the damage on big mango trees and three percent on small trees, the vast majority of fruit losses are due to late harvesting, high winds and other fruit-eating animals – such as rats and birds.
Bat Culling Could Actually Increase Crop Damage
While farmers are pointing to bats as the source of their crop losses, killing them off may actually make pest issues worse. That’s because in addition to being fantastic pollinators, bats serve as excellent pest control. Bats controlling swarms of mosquitoes that spread fatal diseases such as dengue and malaria. They also feast off the insects that destroy farmers’ crops. Insect-eating bats can consume the equivalent of their body weight in bugs in one night. In doing so, bats can save American farmers huge sums by significantly reducing the need for pesticides: with estimates on the lower end reporting $3.7 billion dollars saved per year.
According to Born Free, the Mauritius government was supposed to stop the culling on November 27, 2015 – but the slaughter hasn’t ended. Due to the culling, this species of bats has dropped from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered in a matter of weeks on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List criteria. Despite warnings from bat scientists, wildlife organizations and Mauritian citizens, the government only hasn’t ceased its culling, but has actually made it even easier to kill the bats by allowing any interested citizen to legally kill the bats using any method, without a permit. The Mauritian public isn’t being quiet about its opposition to the killings either – according to a study on the island, 80 percent of the population opposes the cull and more than 125,000 people have signed an online petition against it.
What Can You Do?
The culling of the Mauritius bats has sparked a global outrage. Citizens are conservationists are speaking out. You can help by signing and sharing these petitions:
- Stop barbaric shooting of thousands of endemic flying foxes of Mauritius
- Stop the Mauritian government from killing fruit bats without considering actual evidence
What the Mauritius government doesn’t seem to recognize is that we need bats more than they need us, it is our duty to protect them or else we face the loss of many foods we know and love.
Image source: Jacques de Speville/WWF