An Endangered Species
Named for the tiny island situated in the Indian Ocean—the only place in the world where they live in nature—Rodrigues bats are highly social mammals. They are known to roost together in groups, hanging upside down in trees, and are most active at dawn, at dusk, and at night. Classified as endangered today, Rodrigues fruit bats have faced major threats of habitat loss and human encroachment since their once uninhabited island was discovered by Europeans in the mid-1600s.
Saving the Bats
With the onset of migration, Rodrigues Island, once filled with rich flora and fauna, was heavily deforested. This in turn eliminated much of the fruit bats’ natural habitat, reducing their population tremendously. By the 1950s there were an estimated 1,000 bats on the island, and by the 70s there were less than 100.
It was then that the Jersey Preservation Trust, now the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, took 25 wild Rodrigues fruit bats into a population assurance program, working to safeguard the species against possible extinction. After initial success, the Trust established a second breeding program on Mauritius which remained as the only other established breeding program in the world until the 1990s. It was then that a group of zoos, including Philadelphia Zoo, were able to bring breeding pairs to the U.S. to expand breeding efforts and protect the future of the species.
Rodrigues Environmental Education Program
In addition to managed breeding, an aggressive reforestation and a long-term environmental education program was implemented in 1994 by the Rodrigues Environmental Education Program (REEP) which also helped to rebuild numbers. Developed by Philadelphia Zoo and led by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, REEP educates residents, landholders, and students on the importance of forest restoration and biodiversity.
Because of the original intervention from the Trust, and the continued collaboration with zoos across the U.S., today there are about 20,000 Rodrigues fruit bats left in the wild, and about 200 living in Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) zoos across the country. Rodrigues fruit bats hold the distinction of being the only bat successfully managed under an AZA Species Survival Plan and bred in zoos. Over the next few weeks, some adult bats from Philadelphia Zoo will move to their new home at the Bronx Zoo, and other AZA zoos so they can create their own colonies and continue to stabilize the future of this species.
Philadelphia Zoo is home to over 50 Rodrigues fruit bats living in Rare Animal Conservation Center.
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