Declines in bat populations in recent years due to habitat destruction, hunting, and persecution have led to concern for their long term survival. Compared to other endangered animals such as tigers, elephants, and rhinos, bats have received less attention, less media coverage and, as a result, less funding for conservation-related activities. More than half of the 1,400+ bat species are classified as threatened with extinction.
The major threat affecting most terrestrial species is habitat loss and this is no different for bats. Forests provide roosting and foraging areas along with protection from the elements. Unfortunately these forests are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Tropical forest ecosystems contain the majority of fruit bat diversity. Natural forest ecosystems in the tropics also produce goods and ecosystem services that in turn sustain local and regional economies. Escalating threats to tropical forests and the fruit bats that help maintain and regenerate forest ecosystems call for conservation-oriented research and action that allows the ability to understand, conserve and responsibly manage bats and their habitats.
Island dwelling fruit bats are one of the most persecuted of all wildlife groups. Identified as crop pests and hunted as a food item, these species are losing the forests they rely on for food and shelter, and in turn diminishing in numbers at an alarming rate.
Numerous species that roost in caves or mines are also losing their habitat due to persecution, aggressive guano mining, and ill-advised tourism.
HUNTING AND PERSECUTION
Hunting bats for food has long been practiced in most of the areas where fruit bats and humans coexist. They can be found for sale, alive or dead, in markets throughout SE Asia and Africa. Some cultures believe eating fruit bats can cure such diverse ailments as asthma, kidney issues and even fatigue, but in most places they are simply seen as a delicacy. This is particularly true in SE Asia and some Pacific Islands. The market for bats as a luxury food item in the Commonwealth of North Mariana Islands (CNMI), Guam and Saipan has boomed over the last three decades and placed great pressure on the bat population in those and neighboring Pacific Islands.
Bats are also killed due to long-held superstitions and misplaced fears. In several countries bats are listed as nuisance animals and killed indiscriminately. Farmers are also granted certain rights to kill colonies they perceive as a threat to their crops. In actuality, rodents, birds and primates cause much more damage as bats typically seek overripe fruit which is past the point of harvest.
In the US & Canada, WNS has killed 6-7 million bats. First discovered in 2006 at a NY cave, the fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) has now spread to 37 states and 7 Canadian provinces. Originally from Europe, the disease essentially wakes bats up during hibernation, depleting crucial fat reserves. The respiratory and immune systems are also affected.
The fungus only affects bats that hibernate such as Big brown, Eastern small-footed, Gray (EN), Indiana (EN), Little brown, Northern long-eared (Threatened), and Tri-colored bats. Unfortunately mortality for these species can be as high as 98-100% with local extinctions common. For more information please visit https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/.