10th November 2015

A government cull of 18,000 Greater Mascarene Flying Foxes (Pteropus niger) has begun in Mauritius.

This species is endemic to the Indian Ocean island and appears on IUCN's Red List of threatened species as vulnerable to extinction.

The cull has been authorised as a result of lobbying by fruit growers who accuse the bats of eating lychees and other marketable fruit and is being carried out by a commando unit of the Mauritian police at bat roosts in forests.

Conservation biologists maintain that the bats are blamed for all fruit losses, that birds and rats are also to blame and that a cull can be avoided by effectively netting the fruit trees, as happens elsewhere.

Government estimates of the size of the bat population at 90,000 are based on a defective method of counting (firecrackers to make the bats fly up and an estimate of the number of bats in the air - the bats fly to another roost where they are counted again). Conservation biologists' assessments are half the government figure. So that instead of killing 20% of the population, as the government maintain, the cull will kill 40%.

Notes for editors:

- Two flying fox species have already become extinct in Mauritius- The Greater Mascarene Flying Fox is one of 183 species of Old World Fruit Bats, the majority of which are threatened by habitat loss and hunting for bushmeat- These bats provide the essential ecosystem services of seed dispersal and pollination- Mauritius was the first country to sign the Convention on Biological Diversity - Species such as the Mauritian kestrel and pink pigeon have been brought back from the verge of extinction by scientists of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation working with the Mauritian government - In Australia and Thailand, nets over orchards prevent flying foxes from accessing fruit

Article by Prof Paul Racey

Contacts:- Prof Paul Racey, until recently Co-Chair of IUCN's Bat Specialist Group, who visited Mauritius to advise the government on the fruit bats in 2012 p.a.racey@exeter.ac.uk