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Post truth handy in renewed mass culling flying foxes threatened with extinction on Mauritius

A little more than a year ago, I wrote about the government lead mass culling of the Mauritian flying foxes. At that time, I pointed out how the decision was based on nothing but thin air. This year, there is a word for it: post-truth.

Post-truth seems to be a fast-growing fashion worldwide. This is one desolate reality brought by the digital era. When we thought that this connectivity would make it easier to have access to knowledge and science, many people instead found it much easier to use it consolidate their own personal belief or opinion, no matter what.

Mauritius has come forward to show the world how the post-truth era is a great place indeed.Last week, it announced a new mass culling of its endemic flying foxes. Despite having wiped out over 40% of the population of this endemic threatened species in a matter of a month in 2015, now the Government of Mauritius decides that it is pertinent to go ahead with yet another mass cull. If all goes as planned, within just over a year, at least half of the world population of Mauritius flying foxes would have been wiped off the face of the Earth.

The army went to places where the animals congregate during the day, including natural forests and protected areas and opened fire. The reason for this barbaric action is simple: trying to increasing profit of a few. All tax payers to the Government of Mauritius chipped in, even if thiswould benefit a handful of people. Worst, profits did not increase as expected simply because the main losses to litchis and mangoes are not caused by the flying foxes.

The mass culling has also a far more detrimental consequence. Mauritius has proportionally a high level of endemism per area of land. Although it was one of the last places to be colonised by humans, today it has ranks as having the most endangered terrestrial biota in the world. The reasons: deforestation and introduction of alien species that became pest. Today, the best-preserved forests of Mauritius are mostly legally protected but they are dominated by invasive alien plants. In a matter of decades, some of these best-preserved forests lost half of its large native trees due to alien plant invasion. These facts make the future of Mauritian native forest bleak indeed. The Mauritian Flying fox is the only remaining seed disperser of many of the large trees of the Mauritian forests, particularly that two other flying fox species have already been exterminated in Mauritius. Wiping out most of the surviving flying foxes will mean that less seeds will be dispersed, making forest regeneration even more difficult (as flying foxes need to be in fair numbers for effectively dispersing seeds). As the invasion of the native forest of Mauritius is progressing and the population of its main seed disperser is spiralling down, it is simple to join the dots. The Mauritian forest and its rich biodiversity is heading towards being as dead as the dodo (oops, another Mauritian), through the actions of its own government, which by the way,took commitment to protect and restore its rich and unique biodiversity.

So, why is mass culling – a means proven ineffective to increase fruit production – being done again this year? In the post-truth era, reasoning is not necessary. The answer is….uhm…because it will make some happy, or because it will….[please insert whatever belief or opinion here, especially unfounded].

References cited

Florens, FBV 2016. Biodiversity law: Mauritius culls threatened fruit bats. Nature 530 (7588): 33.

Florens, FBV 2015. Flying foxes face cull despite evidence. Science 350 (6266): 1325.

Florens, FBV et al in press. Long-term declines of native trees in an oceanic island’s tropical forests invaded by alien plants. Applied Vegetation Science. 10.1111/avsc.12273

Florens, FBV et al 2016. Invasive alien plants progress to dominate protected and best-preserved wet forests of an oceanic island. Journal for Nature Conservation 34: 93–100

McConkey, K & Drake, D 2006. Flying foxes cease to function as seed dispersers long before they become rare. Ecology 87(2): 271-276.

Oleksy, R 2015. The impact of the endangered Mauritius Fruit Bat (Pteropus niger) on commercial fruit farms. Final report. The Rufford Foundation.


There is no lack of news on major environmental problems. In the recent decades, they mushroomed strong by the day. Fortunately, there are some stories of success. A few of such stories come from a tiny island in the Indian Ocean that many call ‘paradise’ for its idyllic mountain landscape and sea views. Such stories are surely blockbusters – bringing back to life species surely destined to oblivion. Biology students learn about them in their textbooks – thekestrel, the pink pigeon, the echo parakeet, etc. These stories from Mauritius spark light for a nation that gave the planet the symbol of human caused extinction, the dodo.

The ‘paradise’ Mauritius was one of the last places to be colonised by humans but it is today one of most ecologically devastated. The main causes are the fast and massive deforestation (most of the forest was cut in less than 100 years, with < 5% remaining today). Invasive alien species were introduced by the thousands, even before human settlement (e.g. rats via shipwrecks). So not surprisingly, Mauritius holds both the highest percentage of extinction and of threatened species per landmass. The rarest species on Earth lives alone on Mauritius since over 73 years.

The only remaining seed disperser of large fruited Mauritian trees is the flying fox Pteropus niger. This is the last of the three species of Pteropus that once lived on the island. The species used to occur in the nearby islands of Rodrigues and Reunion but disappeared from these around 200 years ago because of overhunting (luckily some dozen bats were recorded in Reunion in mid-2000s).

Pteropus diet causes tension with fruit growers in many other countries including Australia. It is no different in Mauritius. The Government of Mauritius planned to cull the species since 2006, but this did not materialise as it was legally protected. Introduction of adequate cultural practices (e.g. tree pruning and netting) and the lack of scientific data to back a culling programme were also reasons to hold this type of radical action.

The population of Pteropus niger has, over the last decade, increased slowly to an estimated < 50,000 bats in 2013. This was one reason for the IUCN reducing the species threat categoryfrom Endangered to Vulnerable (https://www.iucnredlist.org/details/18743/0).

In 2014-2015, a study made on litchis and mangoes orchards showed that fruits were lost mostly to wind or becoming overripe (up to 30%), and that bats did damage fruits but to an extent barely higher than caused by alien invasive birds. Further, over the years farmers who pruned and netted their trees sucefully increased their yield.

So, facts indeed show little support for the need to cull the bats. In addition, elsewhere the cull of other Pteropus species failed to reduce fruit damage or disease transmission.

However, against this background and scientific facts, the Mauritius Government took a top-down decision to cull 18,000 bats on 06 October 2015, in the hope of increase profits of its small fruit export industry. This seems to be an unparalleled cull of a native species.

The cull was made legal by the enacting a new biodiversity law a couple of weeks later. The new law, which aims at improving indigenous biodiversity conservation, made its debut by enabling the killing of thousand of animals of a native species alredy threatened with extinction and which has a small population on a reduced land area, and is severely affected by cyclones. Cyclones can decrease the population of flying foxes up to 80-90%.

Non-lethal solutions to the conflict abound. There are a number of win-win solutions such as improviment of cultural practices or restoration of native forests that are highly invaded by alien plants; but these are being done at very slow pace. Even better, bats can generate funds through ecotourism (wildlife watching). Surprisingly, politicians of the country resorted to an old-fashion and ineffective control measure. The international media and international organisationsare standing against the cull).

Mauritius fruit bats are mostly exported to Europe, where there is a growing movement calling for a boycott of both the fruits and also of the destination.

Thousands of bats have already been killed. I hope that there is still time to stop this barbaric and ignorant action – please sign this petition.

Flying foxes face cull despite evidence

Flying foxes face cull despite evidence FLYING FOXES (PTEROPUS niger, also known as Mauritius fruit bats) are currently listed as Vulnerable by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) (1). Originally inhabitants of all three Mascarene Islands, the P. n ig e r pop-ulation was driven extinct on Réunion and Rodrigues, leaving only the population on Mauritius (2) [although a few animals did stray from Mauritius to Réunion recently (1)]. Mauritius, meanwhile, has lost two of its three flying fox species as a result of habitat destruction and hunting by humans (2, 3). Yet, disregarding scientific evidence, the Parliament in Mauritius recently decided to cull thousands of the island’s remaining flying foxes, which consume fruit and nectar, in an effort to increase the profits of fruit producers (4). The IUCN warned that the cull would force an immediate reassessment of the species’ Red List Category, possibly even to Critically Endangered, damaging Mauritius’s reputation (3). The IUCN, Bat Conservation International, and others have called for an evidence-based decision instead, but so far in vain (3, 5).To justify the cull, the government is using exaggerated figures of population size and damage to fruits (3–5). The Honorable Minister has cited a population ranging from 90,000 (4) to more than 1 million fruit bats (6). Research by experts indicates that the population is only 50,000 (3, 4). If the government uses its own estimates instead of scientific evidence to determine the number of fruit bats to cull, the targeted 20% could amount to 18,000 fruit bats (or more, if higher estimates are used). This would not be 20%, but closer to 40% of the actual population. Worse, the cull is scheduled to take place at the onset of the cyclonic season.Other factors, including impacts of invasive alien species (e.g., rats, parakeets, and mynahs), destroy more fruits than flying foxes (7), but are not targeted by the cull, casting further doubts on its effectiveness. Aside from elevating the species’ extinction risks, the cull would exacerbate the already critical situation of Mauritian biodiversity (8), because flying foxes are the sole surviving seed disseminator for several important native tree species (9–1 1 ).Mauritius should not allow its fruit production and export industry to damage threatened species and the environment.

The international community can help encourage Mauritius to reinstate evidence-based decisions and stop the cull. F. B. Vincent Florens Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius. E-mail: Vin.Florens@uom.ac.mu

1. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Pteropus niger (www.iucnredlist.org/details/18743/0). 2. A. S. C heke, J. P. Hume, Lost Land of the Dodo: An Ecological History of Mauritius, Réunion, and Rodrigues (T & AD Poyser, London, 2008).
3. IUCN, IUCN SSC position statement on the culling of the Mauritius Fruit Bat (www.iucn.org/es/noticias/noticias_por_fecha/?22044/IUCN-SSC-position-statement-on-the-culling-of-the-Mauritius-Fruit-Bat)
4. Republic of Mauritius, Sixth National Assembly, Parliamentary Debates (http://mauritiusassembly.govmu.org/English/hansard/Documents/2015/hansard3315.pdf).
5. Bat Conservation International, Bat Conservation International’s Position on the proposed control of Mauritius Fruit Bats Pteropus niger (www.batcon.org/files/BCI_MauritiusBat_Culling_20152.pdf). 6. “Production Fruitère: Le ministre Seeruttun rassure par rapport à l’exercice d’élimination contrôlée des chauves-souris,” Le Mauricien (2015); www.lemauricien.com/article/production-fruitere-ministre-seeruttun-rassure-rapport-lexercice-delimination-controlee-des- [in French].
7. R. Oleksy, “The impact of the Mauritius Fruit Bat (Pteropus niger) on commercial fruit farms and possible mitigation measures” (Detailed final report to The Rufford Foundation, 2015); www.rufford.org/files/14099-B%20Detailed%20Final%20Report.pdf.
8. F. B. V. Florens, i n Conservation Biology: Voices from the INSIGHTS | LETTERS Tropics, N. S. Sodhi et al., Eds. (John Wiley & Sons, 2013), pp. 40–50.
9. F. B. V. Florens et al. , Biodivers. Conserv. 21, 2139 (2012).
10. D. M. Han sen, M. G alet ti, Science 324, 42 (2009).
11 . D. F. Nyhage n et al., Biol. Conserv. 122, 491 (2005)

Bats are slaughtered this Friday

Following many fruit growers complaints that show damage in their orchards, the Ministry of Agro Industry starts exercising bat slaughter in several regions of the island, on Friday 9 December. It will be held every day from 6 pm to 6 am until 23 December. The Mauritius Wildlife Foundation has, she voted against this year , especially as harvesting lychees should end in two or three weeks.

Vikash Tatayah, Director Conservation of the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation , did not understand why there will be a new exercise during this period so that there are "lychees in abundance." He pointed out that the harvest of the lychees would end in two or three weeks, hence the uselessness, according to him, to proceed with a new slaughter. " Our position on this has not changed. We are against any form of slaughter of these mammals. This does not solve the problem , he argues. I hope that the government will not proceed with this exercise. Otherwise, the species will be threatened . "

According to the Minister of Agro-industry, Mahen Seeruttun, about 60,000 bats were counted in October. 30,938 bats were killed in the previous slaughter in 2015.

Culling of flying foxes of Mauritius: the real figures…

Last year I wrote here about the mass culling of a threatened species that was going on in the island of Mauritius in the western Indian Ocean.
In that post, there was still hope that international pressure could help stopping the cull, which as a political decision that took in consideration little or none of the scientific facts and studies.Scientific facts were unanimous against using cull as a management tool for decreasing damage to fruit trees (you can see more details on the previous post and here and here).
Today, finally accounts of culling has been revealed. The number of bats that have been incinerated was nearly 31,000 instead of the initial target of 18,000 – this number is 75% higher than it was first said. And this number only accounts for the animals that were officially cremated. Many animals were not recovered after shooting, some died elsewhere, many babies died of starvation waiting for their mother to return to the roost. There is also the illegal killing that needs to be added – in ‘normal’ years 2,000-3,000 bats were illegally killed by hunters and orchard owners. But 2015 was not a ‘normal’ year, as one could find photos of bats for sale or disposed of in the middle of some of the busiest roads of the country.
Today it is hard to see the Mauritius flying fox in the sky. In a question of 2 months the population dropped by some 50-70%.
The most important question: what was the benefit? It is said planters a decrease of fruit loss of 10%. This is a very tiny improvement. As predicted, culling would not decrease the fruit damage by much because if a resource is abundant and easy to ,access you remove one species, other species will claim the resource. In this case, alien rats, alien birds and robbers. All this small increment in the fruit production reinforces that the damaged that was said by the fruits producers to be caused by the bats were not true.
This story begs two questions?
1. Why hearsay is more important than facts and scientific theories?
2. Bringing a threatened species even closer to extinction is worth this tiny increase in profit of some individuals?

Mauritius: Listen to the alternatives to bat culling

The Impact of the Endangered Mauritius Fruit Bat (Pteropus niger) on Commercial Fruit Farms

Pteropus niger is the only native mammal to Mauritius and is listed as Endangered with decreasing long-term population trend, although there has been an increase over the past decade. Current population is estimated to be of 56 000 and the number is based on a disturbance count method which is highly inaccurate and most likely doubled the actual number of bats. In October 2006 the government endorsed a culling programme for 2,000 bats because of their perceived role in inflicting serious economic damage on commercial fruits (mainly lychees, and also mangoes). Only six bats were officially culled, despite illegal hunting parties being known to kill up to a few hundred bats in one night. There was also an attempt to sterilize fruit bats in 2012. The biodiversity law is currently being revised and it is unknown whether further culling will be supported, however if this happens, the population could be decimated and become critically endangered in a short time.

Through collaboration with Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, the study will provide clear results on the actual impact bats and other animals have on commercial fruit crops and information about the bats’ movement patterns, home range, habitat selection and important feeding and breeding sites. Owners of commercial fruit orchards see bats as pests claiming that they cause major financial losses. It is important to reach such groups and work close with them to quantify the loss they experience and change their perception by providing hard data about the damage caused and benefits brought by bats at the community and ecosystem level.

The study will also estimate the number of bats more accurately and model future population change and distribution, indicate important bat food sources and highlight the role of bats as seed dispersers and plant pollinators. All of these data will be combined in a management plan and recommendations for future fruiting seasons and will help to conserve this important endangered Mauritian mammal.

Read about Ryszard's previous project http://www.rufford.org/rsg/projects/ryszard_oleksy_0 or for more information contact:

Email: bzrzo@bristol.ac.uk

Read more about the activities undertaken and findings of this project in the final report below.
Final Report 652 KB
Detailed Final Report 619.51 KB
2nd Booster Grant Awarded

Congratulations to Ryszard for being awarded a 2nd Booster Grant, to read about this project http://www.rufford.org/projects/ryszard_oleksy_0

Biodiversity law: Mauritius culls threatened fruit bats

Mauritius culls threatened fruit batsMauritius has culled at least 20,000 flying foxes (Pteropus niger), the island’s last surviving native species of fruit bat, in an attempt to reduce damage to lychee and mango crops. Ironically, this cull was justified on the basis of a law enacted in late 2015 to improve protection of the country’s rich biodiversity.Pteropus niger is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as threatened with extinction at the ‘Vulnerable’ level, and was protected under the previous law (F. B. V. Florens Science 336, 1102; 2012). The 2015 law makes provision for a special technical committee that is tasked with advising the government on the necessity of culling a species in the “national interest”. But the decision to cull was announced in parliament before the new bill was enacted, and before the committee could be convened. The cull began within days of the law taking effect. The biodiversity of Mauritius is among the most threatened worldwide. Consumers need to make an informed choice about supporting its fruit industry, which, in my view, shows disregard for the environment and international conventions. F. B. Vincent Florens University of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius.vin.florens@uom.ac.mu

Going to Bat for an Endangered Species

THE LAST SURVIVING (1) OF THE THREE Mascarene-endemic fruit bat species of Mauritius (Pteropus niger) now faces ele-vated extinction risks, as the government disregards science and bows instead to the demands of industry. In response to pres-sure from fruit growers, the Mauritian gov-ernment is working to amend the country’s law that protects bats (2). Meanwhile, the Parent Ministry of the National Parks and Conservation Service is calling on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) to review the bat’s threat category (3, 4). Together, these moves will enable culling of an endangered species (2). Conservationists’ appeals to the government to adopt a more evidence-based approach have gone unheeded. In 2008, the species’ IUCN Red List category was reclassified from Vulnerable to Endangered (5). The bats have suffered extensive habitat loss and degradation (6), and they are highly vulnerable to stochastic events like cyclones (1). Legalizing culling would add to these pressures, putting the spe-cies at further risk. The government’s move is particularly troubling because it coincides with a recent policy that is restrictive to con-servation research and local capacity build-ing in conservation (7).Seeking to cull a species with a recent his-tory of worsening conservation status will be detrimental to Mauritius’s good reputation (1, 8), built on having saved several endemic species from extinction (e.g., the pink pigeon, Columba mayeri) (1). The government has lost further credibility by providing no rea-sonable evaluation of expected benefi ts of specifi c quotas of bat culling. Moreover, the current bat protection law has proved diffi cult to enforce (2, 5), which casts serious doubts on the government’s ability to enforce culling quotas in the future.The international community should encourage Mauritius to conserve the bat population by exploring and extending alternative programs, such as protective netting. Mauri-tius should not undermine the bats’ key eco-logical role as the largest surviving frugivore in the island’s threatened native forests (9). 
F. B. VINCENT FLORENSUniversity of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius.
E-mail: vin.fl orens@uom.ac.mu

References 1. A. S. Cheke, J. P. Hume, Lost Land of the Dodo: An Ecologi-cal History of Mauritius, Réunion, and Rodrigues (T & AD Poyser, London, 2008).
2. Mauritius Fourth National Report on the CBD 2010 (www.cbd.int/doc/world/mu/mu-nr-04-en.doc).
3. Republic of Mauritius Cabinet Decisions, 11 February 2011 (www.gov.mu/portal/site/pmosite?content_id=3cbb26cbf773e210VgnVCM1000000a04a8c0RCRD).
4. Republic of Mauritius Cabinet Decisions, 27 April 2012 (www.gov.mu/portal/site/pmosite/menuitem.4ca0efdee47462e7440a600248a521ca/?content_id=a596ac3eb5217310VgnVCM1000000a04a8c0RCRD).
5. IUCN Red List (www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/18743/0).
6. C. Baider, F. B. V. Florens, in Emerging Threats to Tropical Forests, W. Laurance, C. Peres, Eds. (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2006), pp. 199–214. 7. F. B. V. Florens, Nature 481, 29 (2012).
8. N. S. Sodhi, R. Butler, W. F. Laurance, L. Gibson, Trends Ecol. Evol. 26, 585 (2011).
9. D. M. Hansen, M. Galetti, Science 324, 42 (2009)

article. please view pdf

Flying foxes cease to function as seed dispersers long before they become rare

Rare species play limited ecological roles, but particular behavioral traits may predispose species to become functionally extinct before becoming rare. Flying foxes (Pteropodid fruit bats) are important dispersers of large seeds, but their effectiveness is hypothesized to depend on high population density that induces aggressive interactions. In a Pacific archipelago, we quantified the proportion of seeds that flying foxes dispersed beyond the fruiting canopy, across a range of sites that differed in flying fox abundance. We found the relationship between ecological function (seed dispersal) and flying fox abundance was nonlinear and consistent with the hypothesis. For most trees in sites below a threshold abundance of flying foxes, flying foxes dispersed < 1% of the seeds they handled. Above the threshold, dispersal away from trees increased to 58% as animal abundance approximately doubled. Hence, flying foxes may cease to be effective seed dispersers long before becoming rare. As many species' populations decline worldwide, identifying those with threshold relationships is an important precursor to preservation of ecologically effective densities.

article. please view pdf


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BatsRule!: Post truth handy in renewed mass culling flying foxes threatened with extinction on Mauritius
Post truth handy in renewed mass culling flying foxes threatened with extinction on Mauritius
Post truth handy in renewed mass culling flying foxes threatened with extinction on Mauritius
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