The Pacific Islands of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia are home to a mesmerizing 191 species of bats. But they are also one of the most endangered species on earth. 5 of the 9 bats that have become extinct in 160 years are from among these species of Pacific Island Bats.
The Pacific Island Bats are now listed under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species given the alarming rate at which their numbers are declining. Climate change, habitat loss, and hunting are the main factors that have contributed to their loss in numbers in the 15 Pacific Island territories and countries.
These mammals are declining at a worrying rate of 48%. 25% of the species face imminent extinction. The position of an additional 15% of the bats could not be ascertained as there is insufficient information about them.
As the Pacific Island bats are spread across far-flung and inaccessible islands, they remain among the most poorly studied groups of species. They inhabit vulnerable habitats, for which no review or research has ever been properly conducted with academic meticulousness.
There is also a lack of research on the ecosystem that protects them. There is also a singular lack of information on the important service they provide to the ecosystem through seed dispersal, insect control, and pollination.
Around 40 of the pacific Inland bat species are hunted. This makes the islands the region with the highest proportion of bat species that are hunted.
These native terrestrial mammals are hunted for consumption in 13 Pacific Island territories and countries including America Samoa, Mariana Islands, Micronesia, Cook Islands, Guam, Fiji, Niue, New Caledonia, Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands.
The first Pacific Islands Bat Forum was held this month and brought together community members, conservationists, and researchers. 40 territories and countries participated bringing together 380 people with the sole purpose of ensuring the survival of the Pacific Island bats and their habitat.
The Ecological Importance Of The Pacific Island Bats
The conservation of the Pacific Island bats becomes vital for the preservation of the diverse ecology of the region and protecting its healthy functioning. The survival of the bats also has a bearing on the unique culture of the islands.
The Pacific Island bats are crucial for the survival and the diversity of the plant species on the islands. They are vital pollinators and can disperse seeds and pollen over a vast distance.
But an important trend noticeable is that the Pacific Island bats roost only in native forest fragments. It shows that the survival of native forests is essential for the survival of bats. While the bats are significant as food, totems, and local currency, they remain as key species that ensure the arrangement of the ecological community.
Other than hunting and disappearing habitats, the Pacific Island bats also face threats from farms, roads, and, human habitation that intrudes on their habitats. The intrusion by humans brings with them many intrusive species including snakes, cats, rats, and ants.
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Climate change also remains one of the primary reasons for the decline in the population of Pacific Island bats. Rising seas, the increased intensity and frequency of cyclones, and debilitating heatwaves are killing off the species.
A look at four species of the Pacific Island bats will give a more detailed insight into these fascinating creatures.
The Sheath-Tailed Bat: An Endangered Species Of The Pacific Island Bat
This species of the Pacific Inland bat is distributed across Micronesia, Guam, Fiji, American Samoa, Tonga, Samoa, and Palau. The Pacific sheat-tailed bat weighs a mere 5 grams and flies in a weak and fluttering manner. But it is widespread across the small isolated islands from Palau to Samoa in the Pacific, a distance of 6,000 kilometers across the ocean.
This species survives on insects and roosts in caves. But they have disappeared from half the islands within the last decade. The reasons include the increase in the usage of pesticides, the intrusion of goats and lantana, and human disturbance in their roosting caves.
They remain in parts of Micronesia, Fiji, and Palau and have all but disappeared in the other islands.
The Critically Endangered Monkey-Faced Bat
Six species of the monkey-faced bat remain in the islands of Fiji and Bougainville, and the Solomon Islands.
The montane monkey-faced bat weighs close to 280 grams and lives on nectar and fruit. They have strong teeth. but it is their startling red eyes and the translucent wing membranes.
Their presence is limited to Guadalcanal Island. Its tiny population is exposed to extreme weather conditions like cyclones, especially as they inhabit mountain tops.
The Ornate Flying Fox
This species is endemic to New Caledonia. Unfortunately, they are hunted by the local Kanak tribes for meat and other uses. This leaves them vulnerable to trafficking. Despite regulations, their numbers are rapidly declining. 80% of this species will be wiped out in the next 3 decades if hunting persists at present levels.
The Fijian Free-Tailed Bat
This endangered species is found exclusively in the Nakanacagi caves in Fiji. Around 7,000 of these insect-eaters live here. They have several characteristics in common with 3 other species that are already extinct. These bats are habitat specialists and are threatened by exposure to toxic chemicals through insects.
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The drawback of global laws and international scientific assessments becomes apparent when it is set off against local perspectives and knowledge. Indigenous laws and customs determine the conservation actions to be followed.
The Pacific Bat Network has emerged with the aim of the collaboration between local people and conservationists for saving the Pacific Island Bats while respecting local laws and customs.
But despite their importance, bats aren’t given the importance they deserve in environmental plans. There is also an abysmal lack of information and data on the governance of wildlife in the Pacific islands.