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Home arrow Environment arrow Bats in the Anthropocene: Conservation of Bats in a Changing World

Background

Overview of Bat Hunting

Bat hunting is widespread and affects at least 167 species of bats (or c. 13 % of the world's 1331+ bat species, Bat Conservation International 2015), occurring in Africa, Asia, across the islands of Oceania, and in some parts of Central and South America (compiled from IUCN 2014; Mickleburgh et al. 2009, and personal communications by the authors; Appendix). Hunting is particularly prevalent on the large-bodied fruit bats (family Pteropodidae) in the Old World tropics, where half (50 %, 92/183) of all extant species experience hunting pressure (Mickleburgh et al. 2009; IUCN 2014). A much smaller proportion of insectivorous (<8 %, 75/962 species) are hunted, particularly members of the Emballonuridae, Hipposideridae and Molossidae in Asia and Southeast Asia, Vespertilionidae in North Africa and West and Central Asia, and Phyllostomidae in Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia as well as Rhinolophidae in sub-Saharan Africa, (Mickleburgh et al. 2009; Lizarro et al. 2010; IUCN 2014) (Appendix).

Bats are hunted for a variety of reasons, from their perceived medicinal properties e.g. Nicobar flying fox, Pteropus faunulus, Kingston et al. (2008); 'small bats' in Nepal (Tuladhar-Douglas 2008); fat from pteropodid species in Pakistan (Roberts 1997) to their use in ornate decoration such as the teeth of the Makira flying fox (Pteropus cognatus) used for necklaces (James et al. 2008). Bats are also hunted for sport by urban residents seeking country pursuits (e.g. large fruit bat hunting at Subic Bay, Philippines, S. Stier, pers. comm.) and tourists seeking exotic eating experiences (e.g. Pacific flying fox, Pteropus tonganus, hunting is offered as a recreation option at hotels in Vanuatu; A. Brooke pers. comm. in Hamilton and Helgen 2008). However, the most widespread reason for bat hunting, by far, is for consumption; all 167 species that are hunted are, at least in part, wanted for their meat as a source of protein. Bat meat ranges in value from a highly sought-after delicacy served at special ceremonies and traditional celebrations (e.g. Pteropus mariannus in the Mariana Islands) to “finger food” consumed in social drinking settings

(e.g. many bat species in Southeast Asia, Mildenstein 2012; and in West Africa, M. Abedi-Lartey pers. comm.). Elsewhere, it provides an alternative source of protein for local people for whom meat is an expensive commodity (Jenkins and Racey 2008) and in extreme cases, bats are consumed as starvation food (Goodman 2006).

The intensity and frequency of bat harvesting varies from year round to periodical depending on the seasonality of the species, hunters' lifestyles, and/or local legislation. On the Islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, bats are hunted opportunistically for food all year round (Carvalho et al. 2014). In Southeast Asia, regular harvest of bats occurs in Indonesia and the Philippines (T. Mildenstein, unpublished data). A migratory species, the African straw-colored fruit bat (Eidolon helvum) is hunted whenever it is present in Accra (Fig. 12.1) and Kumasi, Ghana, between November and March (Kamins et al. 2011). Reduced hunting intensity in March is likely due to the northward migration of forest resident bats and/or the shift in hunters' occupation to farming. Similarly, in Madagascar, local legislation specifies two hunting seasons—one for fruit bats, and another for Commerson's leafnosed bat (Hipposideros commersoni) (Jenkins and Racey 2008), though actual hunting intensity is driven more by local availability (e.g. the lychee season for fruit bats). In some localities in east and western Nigeria, year round harvest of the Egyptian rousette (Rousettus aegyptiacus) is known (Fig. 12.1) (I. Tanshi pers. obs.), and E. helvum was documented as hunted during peak population periods in the southwest (Funmilayo 1978; Halstead 1977).

Fig. 12.1 Collection and sales of bats in Africa a R. aegyptiacus collected by a hunter with sticks from a limestone cave in Etapkini near Calabar, Nigeria (credit I. Tanshi), b Fruit bat kebab on sale in Kumasi, Ghana (credit M. Abedi-Lartey), c E. helvum and H. monstrosus on sale in a small market by the River Congo in Kisangani, DRC (credit Guy-C. Gembu)

Bushmeat is preferred to domestic livestock in many places because of the taste and perceived higher nutritional alue (Mbete et al. 2011, T. Mildenstein unpublished data). In locations where domestic meats and fish are generally preferred, such as Madagascar (Randrianandrianina et al. 2010), bushmeat becomes more important in periods of food shortage (Jenkins and Racey 2008). Similarly, on the island of Yap (Micronesia), hunting is socio-economically based, and bats are less desirable than seafood. Only people of lower social ranks with no access to the coast hunt fruit bats (Falanruw 1988). Consumption of bushmeat varies indirectly with the availability of other protein sources (e.g. in west Africa: Brashares et al. (2004)). In areas where bats are eaten, they are rarely the only available source of protein. The exception to this is in times of food insecurity, when people turn to bats as a food source, especially following natural disasters (e.g. typhoons: Aldabra flying fox, Pteropus aldabrensis, Mickleburgh et al. 2008a; Vanuatu flying fox, Pteropus anetianus, Helgen and Hamilton 2008a; Ontong Java flying fox, Pteropus howensis, Helgen and Allison 2008; Rodrigues flying fox, Pteropus rodricensis, Mickleburgh et al. 2008b; Samoan Flying Fox, Pteropus samoensis and P. tonganus, Brooke 2001, and P. mariannus, Esselstyn et al. 2006,

USFWS 2009) and during civil unrest (e.g., Bougainville monkey-faced fruit bat, Pteralopex anceps antrata, S. Hamilton, pers. comm.). Similarly, species found in low-lying areas (e.g. P. aldabrensis and P. howensis) may become increasingly important food to local communities as rising sea-levels destroy other food sources (Mickleburgh et al. 2008a; Helgen and Allison 2008).

Twenty years ago marked the end of a long period of international trade in the Pacific with many pteropodids being imported into Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Once local bat populations were depleted, bats were imported from other island groups and mainland Southeast Asia (e.g. Wiles and Payne 1986; Wiles 1992; Stinson et al. 1992). Protracted international effort eventually led in 1987–1989 to the addition of pteropodid species to the Appendices of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), which has stopped legal trade of bats between nation states, although a black market still occurs (e.g. into Europe, Samuel 2013).

Currently, hunting of bats for trade tends to be locally-based, and not international, but varies widely in intensity. An extensive commercial chain of bat trade exists outside markets in Ghana (Kamins et al. 2011). Other high levels of trade, include that of the large flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus) in Kalimantan, Indonesia (Harrison et al. 2011) and of the Malagasy flying fox (Pteropus rufus) in Madagascar (Jenkins et al. 2007; Oleksy et al. 2015b). More commonly, bats are traded locally and on a lesser scale, with relatively few individuals sold in markets

(e.g. P. vampyrus in the Philippines, Sheffers et al. 2012; and in Southeast Asia, Mickleburgh et al. 2009). Prices per bat range from <1 USD in Southeast Asia (Indonesia: Heinrichs 2004; the Philippines: T. Mildenstein unpublished data) to more than 130 USD when acquired through black market trading (e.g. P. mariannus on Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, USFWS 2009).

 
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