20th May 2019

Winner of the Kate Barlow Award 2019

The Kate Barlow Award was established in memory of the late Dr Kate Barlow, former Head of Monitoring with the Bat Conservation Trust, and in honour of her contribution to bat conservation. The Kate Barlow Award is open to PhD or MSc students anywhere in the world conducting research which has direct relevance for bat conservation.

We are very pleased to announce that the third winner of the Kate Barlow award is Benneth Obitte. Benneth is using an innovative socio-ecological approach to evaluate the drivers of bat hunting and meat consumption in southern Nigerian localities where intense hunting is reported, particularly of the Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus). This species of fruit bat roosts in large numbers within caves and is an easy target for hunters and thus more vulnerable than other bat species. The research will help to shape conservation plans, implement effective conservation education and outreach programs as well as engaging other stakeholders on the importance of cave roost protection.

Hunting is a leading threat to tropical biodiversity, with offtake levels estimated at over six times the sustainable rate. Hunted into extinction in the last 200 years, three of the four extinct fruit bats were large-bodied and previously abundant. About 20% of sub-Saharan bat species are hunted for food and indigenous medicine, with large-bodied fruit bats (Chiroptera: Pteropodidae) being the most targeted. In southern Nigeria, the Egyptian fruit bat is a cave dependent species and is the most abundant non-migratory fruit bat species wherever they occur, and hence a critical species for pollination and seed dispersal of ecologically and economically important plants. Unfortunately, in areas with high cave densities in southern Nigeria, the Egyptian fruit bat is the main target of widespread intense hunting. A recent hunting survey in Southern Nigeria's Cross River State reported that 42% of hunters who were interviewed hunted bats and a high proportion of the hunting efforts occur in protected areas. Likewise, in a preliminary survey conducted by Benneth in Boki and Obanliku Local Government Areas (southern Nigeria) in 2016, 72% of respondents reported hunting bats at least once in the previous year, and most of these efforts occurred in caves – with offtake levels reaching over 1500 individuals per day from a single cave. This high offtake could cause breakdown of bat-plant ecological networks raising serious conservation concerns, and there is an urgent need for a population assessment in areas where they may have been hunted to critical low levels.

Conservation intervention and outreach programs are most effective if such programs are designed to target drivers of behaviours, and if supporting data are locality specific. For example, a list of local ecologically and economically important plants serviced by bats conveys their importance more effectively than a general statement that bats are important pollinators and dispersers. Therefore, the results of the study will be employed in community-specific outreaches and inform roost protection by park management.

The BCT would like to wish Benneth the best of luck with this important research. We are looking forward to hearing more about the project as it develops. You can find out more about Benneths work here: https://kingstonlab.org/people/benneth-obitte/

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone that applied for the award; there were some amazing projects aiding bat conservation and we wish we could have supported more of your work.

We are continuously fundraising for the Kate Barlow Award to ensure that Kate’s legacy of supporting bat conservationists lives on. We would like to thank everyone who has donated and raised funds towards this cause. If you would like to donate you can do so on this page or by contacting us directly on fundraise@bats.org.uk..

The Kate Barlow Award is now closed to applications but it will re-open again in October 2019, to find out more see: https://www.bats.org.uk/our-work/awards/the-kate-barlow-award