The Mauritius fruit bat causes damage to lychee, mango and longan fruit trees on the island in commercial or smallholder orchards, as well as to private household trees.
It is also perceived as a messy, noisy menace by many members of the public. Pressure from fruit-growing stakeholders concerned at the loss of revenue, led to culls of this species in 2015 and 2016; despite outcry from local and international conservation organisations that such action could increase the extinction risk of a rare species found nowhere else in the world.
Conservation organisations and the scientific community are demanding non-lethal solutions to the issue, however, such approaches are proving very difficult to develop. The feasibility of practical measures such as netting of backyard trees and orchards has limitations for which solutions have not yet been found. Furthermore, not much is known about key aspects of bat ecology and environmental patterns on the island, that would help inform policy and long-term solutions for the issue.
Experts from Chester Zoo and the IUCN Human-Wildlife Conflict Task Force are collaborating with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF), Chester Zoo partners and a local conservation NGO, and the Government of Mauritius’ Ministry of Agro-Industry and Food Security to:
1. Better understand the problems associated with protecting fruit from depredation
2. Assess the attitude and perception of the general public
3. Quantify actual damage to orchard fruit by bats.
In August 2017 a workshop was held in Mauritius that brought together a variety of stakeholders including fruit growers, traders, orchard managers, netting and pruning experts, researchers, conservation scientists, conflict mediators, and bat experts. Experts from both Thailand and Australia were invited to share their own experiences of using netting to protect fruit crops from bats.
The two-day meeting was the first time that such a diverse range of people were bought together to discuss the issues and proved to be a huge success. This was the first step of a long process that aims to find non-lethal, long-term solutions to fruit depredation by bats.