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In 1976 and 1979, a small number of bats were collected to found a captive breeding program as a hedge against possible extinction on Rodrigues. The population grew steadily and in 1982, Philadelphia Zoo joined the team of zoos breeding and exhibiting Rodrigues fruit bats. In 1995, the Zoo made a further commitment to conserving this species when curator Kim (Whitman) Lengel initiated a study of genetic variation in the captive and wild populations of bats to provide tools on which to base management decisions. Kim traveled to Rodrigues to gather bat genetic material for her study. While there, she and colleagues visited every primary school on the island, presenting an interactive program about bats to all fifth grade students using bat teaching kits created by zoo educators.
Evaluation of the program’s impact was favorable and provided incentive to make environmental education more widely available to Rodriguans so in 1998, the Philadelphia Zoo launched the Rodrigues Environmental Educator Project (REEP). A full-time environmental educator position was established and is still active on Rodrigues. The educator supports a wide range of environmental initiatives on Rodrigues, encompassing bat conservation but extending well beyond it. Core activities fall into these categories:
Plant propagation and reforestation
Today, the population of wild bats is estimated to be over 20,000! This amazing recovery is a result of diligent conservation measures put in place over the last 40 years, especially during the last 15 years under the Rodrigues Environmental Educator Project.
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