3 Jan 2013
All photos are © Peter Byrne/Press Association

Each year our Seba’s short-tailed, Rodrigues and Livingstone’s fruit bats are caught, counted and their genders determined to make sure that the ratios of males to females are equal. It also gives keepers a chance to check on any new babies.

Rodrigues fruit bats are a particularly threatened species and are classed as critically endangered in the wild, so knowing their exact number is vital in terms of breeding of a viable insurance population in zoos.

Team Manager David White said:

It’s vitally important that we know the ratios of males to females. That’s because sometimes individuals have to be moved to other zoos to breed in order to make sure we keep the gene pool diverse and conserve a healthy, viable population of critically endangered Rodrigues’s fruit bats.

In the 1970s the species almost went extinct as numbers dropped to just 70 bats. However on-going conservation work and habitat protection in Mauritius – which the zoo has helped support for a number of years – together with an effective breeding programme in zoos, research and education has since seen the population steadily increase.

David added:

It’s really pleasing to know that there’s a thriving breeding programme now established in zoos, safeguarding the species’ future should disaster ever strike again in the wild.

We must, however, marry the good work here with more work in the bats’ homeland and keep striving to protect and restore habitat and educate local people about this brilliant species.

Keepers also take the opportunity to give each and every one of the bats – over 400 live in the zoo’s bat cave, which is the largest free-flying bat house in Europe – a general health check; weighing them and measuring their wing spans in the process.

Fast Bat Facts

  • The Rodrigues fruit bat is also sometimes known as the Rodrigues flying fox – large fruit bats are often called ‘flying foxes’ because their elongated muzzles give them a distinctly fox-like appearance
  • Rodrigues fruit bats are a large bat with a wingspan of 75cms (2 ½ ft)
  • Rodrigues fruit bats come from Rodrigues Island, part of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. This is the only place they are found in the wild, and, back in the 1970s, they had almost vanished with numbers dropping to around 70. That is why conservationists began a breeding programme in zoos
  • In 1984 the first Rodrigues Fruit Bats arrived at Chester, where they have been breeding well ever since
  • Fruit bats act as pollinators and seed dispersers in island ecosystems, which makes them vital for forest regeneration
  • Rodrigues fruit bats eat the leaves, fruits or flowers of many different species of plant
  • Pups are born with oversized feet and can usually grip to their mother straight after birth. Born with all their fur and their eyes open, they move straight to one of their mother’s two nipples to drink milk, tucked safely under her wing
  • Bats are the only mammals that are capable of powered flight