By Shadrack Kavilu
Scientists and conservation practitioners have raised alarm over the unprecedented decline of the Bat population in Africa and are now calling for the advancement of Bat conservation research in the continent that will increase Bat conservation efforts and help protect and restore their population.
The scientists warn that though Africa is home to over 250 bat species representing 20 percent of the world’s Bat species population, the alarming population decline due to forest degradation, loss of roosting habitats, unsustainable hunting for meat, and public persecution threatens some of the rare endangered bat species.
With over 1,400 bat species worldwide, a third of these bat species are listed as threatened by the IUCN, and half of the species are declining at unprecedented levels.
“The decline of bat populations and diversity is of intrinsic concern but also threatens to take with it the critical ecosystem services that they provide,” said Prof Paul Webala, A lecturer at the Maasai Mara University.
In a convention in Kigali, Rwanda dubbed the International Congress for Conservation of Biology (ICCB) which brought together scientists, researchers, and conservation practitioners, Scientists underscored the need to incorporate bats into the conservation and development planning of African governments.
“We need to identify strategies for effective conservation planning and research needs based on pressing threats to African bats,” said Prof Webala.
The researchers warned that cases of bat population decline due to environmental degradation are rampant across the continent.
According to several studies conducted in Kenya’s Nandi forest, Cameroon, and Mauritania, some bat populations species have been declining at unprecedented levels.
In Mauritania for instance scientists found that a cave-dependent Mauritania endemic insectivorous bat species (Mormopterus acetabulosus) has declined due to the destruction of its cave roosting habitats and is now roosting in a few lava tube caves.
“The caves are underrepresented in conservation planning in Mauritius despite facing serious threats and disturbances.
The ongoing disturbance to these roosting sites of this endangered bat species elevates the species extinction risks, but also risks weakening its ecological role of the insect pest population,” said Yogishah Ashmi Bunsy, University of Mauritius.
Another study conducted in West Africa highlights that the rare, Endangered Short-tailed Roundleaf bat with an estimated population of less than 1,500 individuals is one of the world’s most threatened bats.
The Bat which depend on high-integrity forests, the species is threatened by habitat loss due to wildfires, logging, cave disturbance, and hunting that are intensifying across its global range – Nigeria, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea including Bioko Island.
“An eight-year monitoring program recorded the abandonment (in 2020) of the last known roost following a disturbance in Cross River National Park, showing that presence in a protected forest alone does not confer sufficient protection for the species,” said Dr. Iroro Tanshi.
Dr Tanshi noted that conservation and research priorities, a long-term intervention in Nigeria is identifying and conserving priority caves along with forest habitat
Another study conducted in Kenya’s South and North Nandi Forests found that habitat loss and degradation are major threats to the bat population, especially in tropical rainforests.
Interestingly, while scientists are agitating for quick development of bat conservation research in Africa, one of the endangered bat species that scientists thought to have been extinct in forty years was found not far from where the convention was held in Rwanda.
In 2019 the Hill’s horseshoe bat was discovered in Rwanda’s Nyungwe dense rainforest -reviving the hopes of conservationists who thought it was extinct.
Although bats have been linked to be vectors of diseases especially the coronavirus pandemic and Ebola, scientists are underscoring the importance of bat conservation.
This story is supported by Earth Journalism Network (EJN)