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Pacific
30 Oct 2016

What does the Bat say??.....SAVE ME

Pacific sheath tailed bat: Photo by Joanne Malotaux
By Steve Cranwell and Sialesi Rasalato

Bats are the only remaining native mammal that survive the gruelling impacts of mother-nature, developments, poaching and invasive alien species predation in Fiji and likewise in most Pacific countries. Studies reveal that there are six species of bats in Fiji, three of which are cave dwelling; Fijian Blossom bat (Notopteris macdonaldi), Pacific Sheath-tailed bat (Emballonura semicaudata), the Fijian Free-tailed bat (Tadarida bregullae), and three are tree dwelling; Samoan Flying fox (Pteropus samoensis), Pacific Flying fox or the Insular Flying fox(Pteropus tonganus ) and the Fiji Flying fox (Mirimiri acrodonta).  All six species of bats are native, of which one is endemic, the Fiji Flying fox.

BirdLife International’s Sialesi Rasalato has been providing technical support to Fiji partner organisation, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti on various projects over the years and one in particular is its current work on the conservation of the endangered Fijian Free-tailed bat (also known as the Fijian Mastiff bat) – one of its species based project.

The Fijian Mastiff bat roosting sites are only found in Nakanacagi, a village on Vanua Levu, the second largest island in the Fiji group; and in Santo and Malo Islands in Vanuatu. NatureFiji-MareqetiViti and is partners has been working tirelessly at the Nakanacagi cave, carrying out community awareness since 2012. Sia has local connections and his links and enthusiasm have been a big part of getting local support.  With funding received from Bat Conservation International in 2014, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti was able to acquire fieldwork technical support from The University of the South Pacific’s Institute of Applied Science and from BirdLife International – a classic example of conservation organisations teaming up to undertake a common goal. Activities orchestrated included mapping of the cave and its boundaries, a two year population assessment (2014 and 2015), organising community awareness and consultations with the local resource users and landowners.

As a result of this continuous organised awareness, local resource users have all agreed to put to a stop the harvesting of the Fiji Mastiff bat and the collecting of bat guano for farming purposes. A road that the locals follow to reach their farms and plantations has also been diverted from its original route (which crosses the cave tunnels) to a mere track circumnavigating the roosting site. Decades of trampling this track have resulted in parts of the cave falling off and forming spontaneous cave-ins. Resource users have been advised to follow a controlled method of burning while clearing their farms. Forests surrounding the cave were previously battered with bush fires which are evident and illustrates a very unpleasant sight.  

Even though the momentum of implementing sustainable practices and gaining a protection status is gradual, the team involved in this project have started planning future activities which generally revolves around the management, protection, betterment and rehabilitation of the roosting site and its surrounding areas. The success story behind this is that the landowners together with the resource users are supportive of the project and discussions are underway so as to secure the caves in perpetuity in protecting the Fiji Mastiff bat population.

The project is a collaboration between NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, Bat Conservation International, University of the South Pacific, National Trust of Fiji, Department of Cooperative – Fiji, Matasawalevu Farmers’ Cooperative, Community of Nakanacagi, Amrit Sen Solicitors and BirdLife International, with the support of the Fiji National Protected Areas Committee.

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