World's largest bats on the verge of extinction in Peninsular Malaysia due to hunting

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Washington, August 26 (ANI): The world's largest species of fruit bat, Pteropus vampyrus, could be driven to extinction in Peninsular Malaysia at the current hunting rate, scientists have warned.

They say that around 22,000 of these bats, also known as "large flying fox", are legally hunted each year in Peninsular Malaysia, a level that is unsustainable based on their estimates of the number of bats in the country.

Dr Jonathan Epstein, a veterinary epidemiologist at Wildlife Trust, surveyed 33 roost sites across Peninsular Malaysia and repeatedly counted the numbers of bats at eight sites between 2003 and 2007.

Writing about their work in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology, he and his colleagues revealed that they compared this data along with the number of hunting licenses issued by the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks using computer models to see whether the number of bats hunted each year was sustainable.

The researchers also used satellite transmitters attached to bats to see how far the species migrated, and found that they travelled from Malaysia to Indonesia and Thailand.

The Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks, which regulates the hunting of flying foxes, also participated in the current study because there was interest in generating data to help assess the impact of current hunting rates.

It was observed that, based on the average number of licenses issued each year, around 22,000 flying foxes per year were allowed to be killed in Peninsular Malaysia, yet this rate was unsustainable even with the most optimistic population level of 500,000 assumed by their model.

The researchers reckon that this level of hunting will drive the species to extinction in between six and 81 years.

Epstein says: "Our models suggest that hunting activity over the period between 2002 and 2005 in Peninsular Malaysia is not sustainable, and that local populations of Pteropus vampyrus are vulnerable to extinction. Now that we know that these bats migrate between Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, coordinated assessments of their status throughout their range will be important for developing effective management strategies. Any additional hunting pressure on this species that occurs in Thailand or Indonesia may hasten the population's decline."

Epstein and his colleagues suggest that a temporary ban be imposed on hunting flying foxes so that their population can recover, and the species can be saved from local extinction.

"Our study illustrates that bats, like other migratory species, require comprehensive protection by regional management plans across their range," says Epstein.

The study's findings have prompted the Department of National Parks and Wildlife to review their policy on bat hunting. (ANI)

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