The Mauritian flying fox, also known as Mauritius fruit bat is a large megabat species endemic to Mauritius and Réunion Island. Once there were three fruit bat species, one is now extinct, leaving one species each on Mauritius (Pteropus niger) and Rodrigues (P. rodricensis).During the past decade, the population of Mauritius fruit bats has exponentially increased. The Government of Mauritius has decided to have a culling of our endemic fruit bats based on the grounds that the population is exploding and that they are acting as a pest, devastating fruit trees. However, is bat culling the best strategy to stop these creatures?
The Government introduced a cull of bats in 2015 and a limited cull in 2016 which may have reduced the number of bats drastically, but culling was proved ineffective as a fruit protection measure in other countries, such as Australia. The existing solutions the Government proposed were nets and lights that did not prove to be efficient.
Furthermore, since the number of bats has soared to almost 100,000 and is causing significant economic damage to the country’s lucrative fruit crops of banana, pineapple, lychee and mango, the Government hopes that fewer bats will help reduce damages to fruits in orchards and boost revenue for fruit farmers. The population of these bats has increased during the last decade and there are claims that it is doing considerable damage to the commercial fruit crops. The fruit bats are estimated by the fruit growers to eat 50,000 kg of litchis per annum and that this damage is increasing at a rate of 10% annually. Fruit growers have been lobbying the Mauritian Government since to remove the Mauritius fruit bats from the protected species list so that the species may be legally controlled in orchards. The damage caused by these bats to exotic fruit crops needs to be assessed in order to mitigate conflict between fruit farmers and back yard fruit growers and the bats.
The Mauritius Wildlife Foundation (MWF), whose mission is to protect threatened endemic species like the Mauritius fruit bats, wishes to engage in a dialogue with fruit growers, to look into why, how and when to protect their fruit trees from birds and bats by the use of netting, and the advantages of pruning tree. MWF also wishes to hear from farmers about ways to reduce damage to fruits, without resorting to culling. Netting is considered to be the only efficient solution to prevent fruit damage. It is used, along with pruning to keep trees small. To support that, the cull on Mauritius in 2015 is reported to have caused a drop in damage of 10% (official Government figure), clearly showing that culling is not the solution. On the other hand, efficient netting can completely eliminate damage by bats and birds. In August 2017, MWF organised a ‘Netting Workshop’ in collaboration with the Ministry of Agro-Industry and Food Security, Chester Zoo (UK) and the IUCN. This workshop was attended by fruit farmers and received technical advice of farmers and researchers from Australia and Thailand.
The Government of Mauritius, through the Food and Agriculture Research and Extension Institute (FAREI) of the Ministry of Agro-Industry and Food Security, subsidises 75% of the cost of nets to help fruit growers reduce damage to their fruit trees. Netting is the best way to protects both fruit bats and fruit framers trees but illegal hunting should also be stopped and prevented.
The mass killing of the bats is simply inhumane and projects them in a negative light by portraying them as harmful animals which need to be destroyed. Our nation, one with a vision of welfare for its people and nature, needs to come up with a more favourable solution to tackle this issue without spilling any blood.