When is a fox not a fox? When its a bat! The flying fox found in the Indian Ocean islands of the Comoros is actually a fruit bat. It goes by the name of Livingstone's fruit bat and is one of two bat species we have at Jersey Zoo. In the wild, this rare bat is found only on two small islands called Anjouan and Mohéli in the Comoros archipelago, off the southeast coast of Africa.
Scientists working with Durrell think that there are less than 1,200 individuals in the wild. These few individuals are distributed across 21 roost sites on the islands, 19 of which are seriously threatened by habitat loss.
This video was taken in 2012 when the scientists went into the field to find out how many bats were left in the wild. More video diaries can be found on YouTube.
Widespread deforestation is causing severe population decline in the critically endangered Livingstone’s fruit bat. Local people often hunt the bat for food or just kill it out of ignorance because they are scared by how it looks. Watch this and decide for yourself if they are scary!
What people don't often realise is that fruit bats play an important role in the regeneration of tropical forests. They act as both pollinators and seed dispersers for many plants. Livingstone's fruit bats are therefore vital to the health of the Comoro islands.
The first Livingstone's bats arrived at Durrell in 1992 – the species had never been kept in captivity before. It took four expeditions to catch enough bats to start to the captive breeding programme designed to safeguard the species from being wiped out.
We now work in partnership with Bristol Zoo to ensure we can maintain enough genetic variation within the captive population. Livingstone’s fruit bat mothers give birth to a single infant after a gestation period estimated to be around five months. The mother and infant bond in bats is very strong and within Durrell’s Island Bat Roost Durrell infants remain with their mothers for the first few months, even as the mother flies and feeds.
Baby Ben in the photo above is a megabat with a superfan...Superman! Henry Cavill, a friend of Jersey Zoo, adopted Ben last year. Henry does a lot of work to support the zoo and even baked Ben a birthday cake.
Ed Bell a mammal keeper at Jersey Zoo works with the bats. A few months ago he did #Takeover Tuesday at the zoo. You can watch his introduction video by clicking here. More recently I asked Ed some questions about his job and his love of bats.
Name: Ed Bell
Occupation: Mammal keeper
What made you want to work at Jersey Zoo? Growing up I can always remember watching bats flying on summer evenings. I was lucky enough to volunteer with the bats a few years before getting my job and that was where I fell in love with them and knew I’d like to work with them in the future.
What do you feed the bats in the zoo? A large variety of fruit and veg, we can’t source wild fruit easily so we replicate the diet as best as we can using local producers and our own organic farm.
People tend to think of Halloween and scary buildings when you talk about bats? Are they scary to work with? They are definitely not scary. The majority of bats in the world are actually insect eaters. They really help us out by not only eating biting insects like mosquitos, but they actually protect a lot of our crops by eating the pests that damage them – all for FREE!
Majority of the negative statements you hear about bats are actually old wives tales or as we call it today fake news.
Can you tell the difference between individuals? Yes! For starters they all have a microchip just like cats and dogs can. We also spend time learning their faces, as like us they are all a little different. Some of the things we look for are the shape of the ear, the shape of the patch on their backs and its colour. Their personalities help too. Some are quite friendly, others are quite bossy and dominant over territories - this usually means they are protecting their food dish.
On a scale of 1 to 10 how cute are baby bats? Possibly one of the cutest things in the world. 10/10
You are a member of the Jersey bat group. How many species of bat are there on the island?
I am, we do quite a lot of work surveying bats to better understand them here on the island. So far, we have encountered 15 species here in Jersey. Bats can migrate, so occasionally we will get a vagrant bat that has not ended up where it should much like with birds.
Do you need any special skills for working with bats in the wild?
You need to be able to get by without much sleep – that is definitely the most important skill as there are a lot of late nights! Other than that there are more specialist things like tree climbing which I did a course on recently to allow me to help check whether there are bats roosting in trees. Other skills can be learnt and your local bat group will be more than happy to show you ad help train you.
Ed also works with wild bat species found in Jersey. He is a member of the Jersey Bat Group which consists of volunteers who go around the island surveying, protecting, and educating people about our local bats. Anyone can join.