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Conservation Stories - Rodrigues Fruit Bat

What’s brown, fluffy, loves fruit, and almost went extinct?

The Rodrigues Fruit Bat was once the rarest bat in the world, with a wild population of under 100 individuals. How did they get there, and how have Rodrigues Island natives, Lubee, and zoos around the world helped them recover?

The Rodrigues Fruit bat (Rods) is a medium sized, fluffy fruit bat native to the Rodrigues Island, right off the coast of Madagascar. Rods are endemic to their island, which means that the tropical rainforests they occupy is the only place they can be found naturally. They are arboreal and rely on the trees for both homes and food.

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In the 1970s, most of their habitat had been cleared and the bats were rapidly disappearing.

In 1979, a cyclone hit and decimated the remaining population, leaving a mere 70 bats behind.

Mary Jane Raboude, a Rodriguan native, noticed she hadn’t been seeing as many bats as when she grew up and reached out for help. A small population of Rods were taken into human care to form a breeding colony. Rods were taken to zoos around the world, including the San Diego Zoo, the Oregon Zoo, the Prague Zoo, and the Copenhagen Zoo. These zoos participated in exchanging and breeding Rods to maintain a diverse genetic profile. The hope was to keep this species alive, as well as recover their wild population.

While zoos around the world were working on increasing the Rod population, native people and institutions like Lubee were creating and funding projects like REEP, the Rodrigues Environmental Education Programme. Founded by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation in 1998, the goal of REEP is to sensitize and educate Rodriguans on the biodiversity of Rodrigues, the need for conservation, and other environmental issues. Some of their active projects include providing education programs, hosting community outreach events, promoting volunteer work, assisting in Rodrigues Fruit bat research, celebrating worldwide environment work, and supporting other conservation efforts headed by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF).

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In 2022, MWF educated about 650 students and 250 adults about conservation efforts. They hosted nearly 500 volunteers and donated about 4500 native plants to local organizations. Members of MWF appeared in the local and national press on 50 occasions. Multiple island-wide bat surveys to monitor Rod populations were conducted by MWF and their volunteers. They held celebrations for 9 different global environmental holidays. All of this hard work leads to a brighter future for the bats, all other native wildlife, and future generations of Rodriguans.

As of 2022, there is estimated to be a stable population of over 20,000 Rodrigues Fruit bats on Rodrigues Island. Several zoos around the world continue to breed these bats to maintain a diverse genetic profile that can be provided if the Rod population were ever to fall to extinction levels again.

In 1999, a very special Rodrigues Fruit bat was born here at Lubee Bat Conservancy. Grace was born to Geraldine in June of 1999 but was found hanging by herself by keepers in the morning. Rejected by her mother, Grace had to be hand reared by Lubee staff. She was reintroduced to bats at two months old and has lived with them ever since. As a result of being hand reared, she is very personable, a friendly, curious bat. Because of her gregarious personality, Grace has been an ambassador for her species and other fruit bats alike.

Here at Lubee, we hold community engagement as a core institutional purpose. Part of our goal at Lubee is to engage with local people to encourage local conservation efforts and education. One of the ways we aim to accomplish this goal is going on outreaches to public libraries, schools, retirement homes, and other events. At these events, we bring a bat, and it used to be Grace! Since she was so comfortable around people, she was great with the public and would often show off for them. She’s since retired, but her legacy lives on. She has many fans around the world and is often a favorite of those who visit our facility.

In her retirement, Grace loves to hang out by the front of her pen, where she can see keepers and guests in the hallway. Every day, she greets interns and keepers by sniffing at the top of their heads. Grace loves playing with the daily enrichment, and can often be found checking it out before any other bat in the pen. She is known to flap her wings quite aggressively, showing off her impressive wingspan and power. She is a little bit of a food hog, enjoying munching on cantaloupe, grapes, and bananas, and even stealing it out of other bats’ mouths! In late 2022, Grace and her Rod friend Bean were introduced to our new collection of Rods from the San Diego Zoo to help them acclimate to Lubee life!

The story of the Rodrigues fruit bat is a great example of the impact just one person can make. One woman was the difference between an animal existing and an animal going extinct. Now, thanks to the collaboration of Rodriguans, the MWF, and Lubee, the habitat of not just the Rods, but many other native animals, is being protected and restored. The people and animals of Rodrigues Island have a new future.

Want to see these fluffy flying foxes up close? Schedule a VIP tour today to meet Grace and her friends in person!

To all our batty friends out there, stay fluffy and friendly, just like Grace!

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