A colony of giant African bats has made a dramatic return from the brink of exctinction, thanks to a conservation drive discouraging people from eating them as delicacies.
As recently as 1989, the Pemba Flying Fox, one of Africa’s largest bat species, was critically endangered, with only a few individuals left on Pemba Island, off the coast of Tanzania. Since an intervention by Flora and Fauna International (FFI), numbers have soared to a staggering 22,000.
According to conservation worker, Joy Juma, “At one time roast bat was a very common dish on Pemba. Now people value the bats for different reasons.”
The bat, with a huge five and a half feet wingspan, was once widely hunted and eaten as a delicacy by islanders. FFI worked extensively to reduce the threat from hunting, established two new forest reserves to safeguard the bat’s habitat and raised awareness of the need for conservation throughout Pemba’s communities.
As a result, the creatures are now much loved by islanders, with nearly 100% of locals supporting the conservation effort in a recent opinion poll. A number of community-led “Pemba flying fox clubs”,which help protect the bat through education and monitoring, have even been set up across the island.
Amid the constant flow of depressing stories about species extinctions, habitat destruction and dwindling polpulations, it encouraging to hear about such a massively successful initiative – and one which relied on elements as ‘simple’ as education, persistence and community engagement.