11 16/11/2017

Unprecedented joint effort brings new positive development to Mauritius fruit bat conflict

Conservationists, fruit growers, netting experts and government officials have gathered for the first time in a joint effort to develop new solutions to resolve conflict between farmers and crop raiding bats.

Mauritius fruit bat

Chester Zoo, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, and the IUCN Task Force on Human-Wildlife Conflict teamed up with the Government of Mauritius to bring together a range of stakeholders to share ideas and work towards ways of reducing the conflict sparked by damage done to fruit orchards by Mauritius fruit bats.

This endemic species, listed as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, is known to cause damage to lychees and mangos across Mauritius. Pressure from orchard owners has increased in recent years, leading to controversial culls of the fruit bat in 2015 and 2016.

Dr Vikash Tatayah, Conservation Director of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, said: 

It is a very complicated issue but one we must address; this species is very vulnerable to sudden population reductions that may be caused by culls or cyclones.

However, a jointly organised workshop, unprecedented in Mauritius, has taken place at the Food and Agricultural Research Extension Institute. Fruit growers, traders, orchard managers, netting and pruning experts, researchers, policy makers, conservation scientists, conflict mediators, and bat experts came together to discuss potential alternatives to reduce the conflict without resorting to a further cull.

The international conservation community has become increasingly concerned about the fate of this endemic species despite extensive previous efforts by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, the Food and Agricultural Research Extension Institute, and the National Parks and Conservation Service to address the issue.

Mauritius fruit bat

Dr Alexandra Zimmermann, Head of Conservation Science at Chester Zoo and Chair of the IUCN Task Force on Human-Wildlife Conflict, said: 

The recent workshop was another positive step towards finding new solutions. At the heart of conflicts like these is usually a history of tensions between parties, so a crucial first step in addressing them is to bring people from different backgrounds together to find common ground. In this regard, our workshop was an important and encouraging success.

Led by the Food and Agriculture Research Extension Institute, together with support from the Ministry of Agro-Industry and Food Security, and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation the two-day meeting included detailed presentations from international experts who were funded to attend the event by Chester Zoo (UK).

In a collaborative spirit, Ian Groves, a lychee farmer of over 30 years and former president of the Australian Lychee Growers Association, and his wife Sandi, shared his wealth of experience in netting and management of lychee orchards, while Dr. Sara Bumrungsri, a bat expert from the Prince of Songkhla University in Thailand explained alternative deterrents and additional benefits of nets, which can also prevent damage by insects.

For the very first time, fruits growers and other interested parties had a chance to discuss such advice jointly and to work together to identify the best ways to move forward.

Danand Seetaram, marketing manager of a leading fruit exporting company, said:

After this workshop, all planters should adapt to change ways of doing things, thus we shall be able to protect our fruits and at the same time protect our bats. Together we can make it happen!

These very productive and encouraging discussions would not have happened without the initiative of the ministry, the extensive efforts of the Food and Agriculture Research Extension Institute, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the support they have received from overseas organisations.

Mauritius fruit bat

Poubarlen Soobraydoo, commercial lychee and mango fruit orchard manager, said:

We now understand that there are effective alternatives to culling which can be used to protect our orchards from bats and some other pests. I hope that ideas brought up during the workshop may later materialise into action and that similar events will be organised in the future.

In what will be a continuing effort, Chester Zoo, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the Government of Mauritius are now looking forward to working together to develop the next steps towards the implementation of alternative solutions to mitigate the conflict.