The Mauritius Fruit Bat (Pteropus niger) is perceived to be causing significant damage to commercial fruit crops. Commercial fruit growers believe the feeding patterns of the Mauritius Fruit Bat is impacting crops of lychee and mango. This has led to calls for a cull of a significant percentage of the population of the species but without scientific data to substantiate the call. As of October 2015, this cull is set to go ahead. To read IUCN's position statement on this news, please click here.
During the past decade, the population of the Mauritius Fruit Bat has been increasing due to a lack of major cyclones which would naturally control the population. Although recent observations indicate that the bat population is not growing any further because of habitat and food limitations, bats are being blamed for most of the losses incurred to mango and lychee production.
Since no scientific data were available on the subject, in 2014 a pilot project was carried out by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation to investigate the actual impact bats and other animals (such as introduced birds, rats and macaques) may have on fruit crops. Results suggest that the majority of fruit is lost from natural drop and wind.
In fact, bats prefer ripe fruit and as many fruits are not harvested, mostly at the top of tall trees, the bats will feed on these fruit that would otherwise go to waste.
The study shows that the claimed damage bats cause to the fruiting trees is largely exaggerated. Significantly the distinction between bat, bird and rat damage is usually not analyzed by the tree owner. Tree owners are aware of bird damage but their impact on fruits have been underestimated or ignored. Further, while bats are responsible for part of the damage, solutions exist to limit this negative impact.
The project will assess the impact bats, birds and other animals have on commercial fruits across Mauritius to show that bats are not as significant a pest as is claimed.
In doing so the project aims to generate data and information on the true impact that bats have on fruit production, evaluate the predation by other predators such as introduced birds and natural factors, and advise on conservation-friendly and humane mitigation measures.
The project will also test mitigation methods to ensure protection of the valuable fruit crop. Hard data on the subject should ensure protection of bats and inform government and the fruit growing community on the most appropriate mitigation measures, in terms of reduction of damage to fruits and animal welfare consideration.
Specific outcomes for the project include better monitoring of the species and the impacts bats and other causes have on fruit production.
Secondly the project aims to ensure no further culling of the species will be considered.
Thirdly it is hoped that the mitigation methods proposed will gain wider acceptance as a solution to the issue of crop loss due to wild animal feeding behaviours.
Finally the project aims to improve the perception of people about bats, once it is demonstrated that bats are not the major fruit pests.