Flying foxes in peril
From persecution to reconciliation?
"Flying foxes provide critical ecosystem services...Yet they face intensifying threats, particularly on islands. The situation is epitomized by the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius"
A recent paper in Science puts the spotlight on the plight of flying foxes. These are the fruit bats that are mostly found on islands and threatened by human activities, namely hunting and destruction of habitats, as highlighted in the paper.
One of the biggest and recent crisis regarding endangered fruit bats was the cull of the Mauritius fruit bat initiated by the Government of Mauritius in 2015, as a response to claims of huge damages caused to mango and litchi farms.
According to official numbers, 30,938 bats were killed in the 2015 cull campaign. Despite an international outcry during and after the cull; despite non-lethal alternatives, a second cull was conducted in 2016.
The cull in Mauritius was initially driven by an interest to mitigate conflicts between fruit farmers and the bats. It was assumed that the equations were simple:
Fruit bats eat valuable fruits= economics losses to fruit farmers
Kill thousands of fruit bats = no threats to their survival = happy fruit farmers
But it is not that simple!
There was a failure to recognize in time that the Mauritian population in general was antagonistic towards the species. And that there is strong support for the killing of fruit bats, even if an individual has never experienced any impacts from them.
So what was supposed to be a mitigation measure became a public witch hunt. Killing of the bats for fun and food was openly shared on social media platforms.
As was recently documented for wolves , it should be no surprise that culling campaigns encourage illegal killing by the public.
What was initially a human-wildlife conflict eventually turned into a complex social, political and environmental 'mess'. And currently there are multiple polarized ends that are yet to come together.
While pictures like above anger us, we need to go beyond it and start asking and answering the right questions. What went wrong? What drives the local animosity towards the fruit bats?
Which is why here, i want to call upon my peers from the conservation field. To be a stronger component of the solutions, we really need to step up and look at the bigger picture. What we value may not be valuable to others.
We need to make an effort to really understand the local perceptions, no matter how shocking it can be to us.
We need to work with the Mauritian population respectfully without trying to impose our personal interests and conservation values
And we need to avoid using arguments that are yet to be backed by scientific evidence.
Can we come together for this unique species?
And when we come together to start looking at common solutions, it may be best that all actors leave some baggages at the door; baggages such as individual egos, personal interests and lack of respect and compassion...