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Traveling to Mauritius

By Kim Lengel, Vice President of Education and Conservation

Veterinarian Dr. Tim Georoff and I left Monday morning from JFK Airport in New York City for our flight to Mauritius, by way of Johannesburg, South Africa. We're travelling all this way for the primary purpose of accompanying 30 Rodrigues fruit bats back to the Zoo from the long-time captive colony of bats at the Gerald Durrell Endemic Wildlife Sanctuary (GDEWS) in Mauritius. 

Book by conservationist Gerald Durrell describing his mission to Rodrigues to save the bats.
Rodrigues fruit bats are actually not found in Mauritius but in the nearby Mascarene island of Rodrigues. In the 1970s, their numbers had dropped to fewer than 100, making this species among the most critically endangered bats in the world. In stepped the famous author and conservationist Gerald Durrell. He personally rescued some bats from Rodrigues and set up a colony on Mauritius as a hedge against possible extinction in the wild. The bat colony on Mauritius gradually grew, and eventually, some of these bats made their way to various captive breeding centers in the world, including the Philadelphia Zoo.
 
Thirty-five years after they were originally rescued, the Rodrigues fruit bat population in zoos is doing well, and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) decided they no longer needed to maintain such a large colony on Mauritius. Because these bats were born in captivity and would not be good candidates for reintroduction, and because the wild population is doing so well now—more on that later—our colleagues at MWF contacted us to see if we could absorb their bats into the US zoo population. I manage the Rodrigues fruit bat population in US zoos, and I jumped at the chance to import some new genetic lines for our population and to help our long-time conservation partners at MWF. 

Rodrigues fruit bat
Rodrigues Fruit Bat (MWF photo)
 
Beth Bahner
The Zoo’s Animal Collections Manager, Beth Bahner.
Typically when we transport animals, even internationally, we do not accompany them, but this move was different. The bats would be travelling a long way—about 5 hours from Mauritius to Johannesburg, an 8-hour layover in Johannesburg, and then another 16 or so hours to JFK, followed by a 2-hour drive south to Philly. We wanted to make sure the bats were well prepared for their journey, so we had their travel carriers shipped to Mauritus from Phllly and will work with staff at the GDEWS to set up the bats for their trip. We will also make sure that the bats are as well provisioned as possible during their long journey by feeding them enroute. The Zoo's Animal Collections Manager, Beth Bahner, has literally worked for months to gain permission for us to access the bats to feed them in the cargo area of the O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg.  With 30+ years of experience arranging animal moves around the US and the world, Beth has experienced a lot, but even she was challenged by all the restrictions and regulations governing this animal move. 


Traveling to Mauritius

By Kim Lengel, Vice President of Conservation

Veterinarian Dr. Tim Georoff and I left Monday morning from JFK Arport in New York City for our flight to Mauritius, by way of Johannesburg, South Africa. We're travelling all this way for the primary purpose of accompanying 30 Rodrigues fruit bats back to the Zoo from the long-time captive colony of bats at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Center in Mauritius.

Rodrigues fruit bats are actually not found in Mauritius but in the nearby Mascarene island of Rodrigues. In the 1970s, their numbers had dropped to an fewer than 100, making this species among the most critically endangered bats in the world. In stepped the famous author and conservationist Gerald Durrell. He personally rescued some bats from Rodrigues and set up a colony on Mauritius as a hedge against possible extinction in the wild. The bat colony on Mauritius gradually grew, and eventually, some of these bats made their way to various captive breeding centers in the world, including the Philadelphia Zoo.
 
Thirty-five years after they were originally rescued, the Rodrigues fruit bat population in zoos is doing well, and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation decided they no longer needed to maintain such a large colony on Mauritius. Because these bats were born in captivity and would not be good candidates for reintroduction, and because the wild population is doing so well now—more on that later—our colleagues at MWF contacted us to see if we could absorb their bats into the US zoo population. I manage the Rodrigues fruit bat population in US zoos, and I junmped at the chance to import some new genetic lines for our populaiton and to help our long-time conservation partners at MWF. 
 
Typically when we transport animals, even internationally, we do not accompany them, but this move was different. The bats would be travelling a long way—about 4.5 hours from Mauritius to Johannesburg, an 8-hour layover in Johannesburg, and then another 16 or so hours to JFK, followed by a 2-hour drive south to Philly. We wanted to make sure the bats were well preppared for their journey, so we had their travel carriers shipped to Mauritus from Phllly and will work with staff at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Center to set up the bats for their trip. We will also make sure that the bats are as well provisioned as possible during their long journey by feeding them enroute. The Zoo's Animal Collection Manager, Beth Bahner, has literally worked for months to gain permission for us to access the bats in the cargo area of the O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg for feeding.  With 30+ years of experience arranging animal moves around the US and the world, Beth has experienced a lot, but even she was stymied by all the restrictions and regulations governing this animal move. 
 
So here we are on Mauritius. It's a first-time visit for Tim and my third time on the island. It was dark when we arrived but we could still appreciate the gentle toprical breeze, velvet black skies and excellent star-viewing.   No problems with light pollution here. We're staying in a guest house near the airport overnight. Tomorrow morning, our day begins early for our flight to Rodrigues. I'm so excited to return the island where I did my graduate work almost 20 years ago. It's hard to believe I've been working to conserve Rodrigues fruit bats for that long. But more on that tomorrow—it's 11 p.m. here and we've been enroute for 1.5 days.  I need some sleep!