The Government of Mauritius has ordered the cull of 18,000 fruit bats by the end of November because of claims they are having a significant economic impact on the island’s fruit industry.
Mauritius – located about 1,000km off the east coast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean – is infamous for being the island home of the dodo, a large, flightless bird that was hunted to extinction by European and Arab traders for its meat.
Now conservation groups say the planned cull could wipe out 40 per cent of Mauritius fruit bats – like the dodo, a species only found in Mauritius – leaving them at much greater risk from extreme weather events such as cyclones.
According to the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF), the authorities’ population estimate of 90,000 bats is about 40,000 too many because of an inaccurate “disturbance-based counting method”.
As a result, it fears the cull could leave numbers dangerously low. Cyclones, which are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity in the future, deprive the bats of the fruit they feed on, leaving them to starve, and of trees to roost in.
“This decision sets a dangerous precedent,” said Dr Simon Stuart, chair of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
“It could be one of the first times that culling of a globally threatened species has been authorised against all the scientific evidence and when there are more effective alternatives.”
Those alternatives included netting fruit trees to deny the bats – also known as flying foxes – access to commercially grown fruit.
In recent years, Mauritius has been the location for some remarkable conservation successes – in the 1970s and 80s, the Mauritius kestrel was saved from extinction after declining to just four birds, and there are now thought to be some 400 mature individuals.
The Mauritius fruit bat is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List.