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Bat watchers wanted

A Flying Fox bat and its offspring hang from a tree in a forest near Kratie town
A Flying Fox bat and its offspring hang from a tree in a forest near Kratie town. GORDON CONGDON

Bat watchers wanted

Bats may conjure up images of nefarious winged predators that only come out at night, but not much is said about their vulnerability.

Nearly 50 government officials, NGO members and students gathered yesterday at the Royal University of Phnom Penh to learn about conservation and monitoring tactics of one bat genus indigenous to Southeast Asia – Lyle’s Flying Fox.

“We were thrilled that we got such good representation from everybody,” said Tigga Kingston, who began the outreach initiative in 2011, when the Southeast Asian Bat Conservation Research Unit (SEABCRU) received a five-year grant from the US’s National Science Foundation.

Yesterday kicked off a three-day workshop focused on calculating and conserving populations of the Flying Fox, a genus found only in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Seminars and field work geared toward biologists, ecologists and students aim to teach them how to monitor the bat’s overall population.

The event is led by SEABCRU in collaboration with Centre for Biodiversity Conservation at RUPP.

Through pollination and seed distribution, Flying Foxes are crucial to the survival of hundreds of different plant species such as Cambodia’s durians, Kingston said.

Though about 15 of the 31 known species of Flying Foxes in Southeast Asia are considered threatened or endangered, the bats are killed by hunters and farmers using pesticides across the region, she said. But more data could show that number is higher.

“We know they have Flying Foxes [in Southeast Asia], we know that they’re being hunted and we can guess that their population is being depleted,” Kingston said. “Forest [plants] would eventually die if their seeds aren’t dispersed.”

The workshop is part of a series intended to grow the network of scientists and others interested in Flying Foxes who can measure populations in areas where data is lacking beyond just the existing experts. The idea is to create a self-perpetuating system of Flying Fox watchers across Southeast Asia, said Kevin Olival, a senior research scientist with the EcoHealth Alliance, who works with SEABCRU.

“You’re training students who will be future professors.”

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