World’s Largest Bats Need International Protection

New research published today in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology shows that without international protection the world’s largest species of fruit bat, Pteropus vampyrus or the ‘large flying fox’ could be driven to extinction in Peninsula Malaysia.

A study led by Dr Jonathan Epstein, Wildlife Trust, counted the numbers of P. vampyrus at eight sites in Peninsular Malaysia between 2003 and 2007. The data was compared with the number of hunting licenses issued by the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks. Based on the average number of licenses issued annually, 22,000 flying foxes per year were allowed to be killed. This rate was unsustainable, even at the most optimistic population estimate of 500,000, as calculated by the researchers’ computer model. At this level of hunting, P. vampyrus will be driven to extinction in between six and 81 years.

By fitting the bats with radio collars, the researchers also revealed that P. vampyrus travels large distances; to Thailand and Indonesia. The bats may travel for up to 60km a night in search of food. Understanding the extent of P. vampyrus’ range will help the co-ordination of international action to protect the bat populations.

Hunting pressure and habitat loss are the two greatest threats faced by P. vampyrus. Commenting on the study, Dr Epstein says: “Our study illustrates that bats, like other migratory species, require comprehensive protection by regional management plans across their range.”