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Rare bat captured on Taveuni

June 20
12:00 2009

image Written By : SUN FIJI NEWSROOM. Researchers on Taveuni have recaptured one of the world’s rarest bat species, not seen for nearly 20 years.
The Fiji flying fox (Mirimiri acrodonta), sometimes known as the Fiji monkey-face bat, is unique to Fiji, has no close relatives and is only found in high altitude forests on the island of Taveuni.
The bat was first discovered by scientists in 1977 and was subsequently caught in 1990 by the Australian Museum. Only six bats have ever been captured, including this latest capture, which is the first one to be released for ongoing ecological research.
Researchers Annette Scanlon and Guy Bottroff from the University of South Australia working with the National Trust for Fiji and NatureFiji-MareqetiViti successfully trapped the rare species in May near Des Voeux Peak, after their first survey to trap it in April was unsuccessful.
After working for seven nights in May, they caught a pregnant Fiji flying fox, with typical light brown fur and brilliant bright orange eyes.
“She was quiet and beautiful with incredible orange eyes, and weighed 100 g more than we expected, because of the pregnancy” Scanlon said.
This bat has been of interest to international bat scientists for many years, but remains poorly known in Fiji..
It is categorised as critically endangered because of its restricted distribution to high altitude montane forests on Taveuni.
The aim of the current research is to work with local organisations such as NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, National Trust of Fiji, and University of the South Pacific to find this bat and study its ecology.
“We want to learn about its habits in the forest, where it lives, what it eats, and how we can distiguish it from the other more common bat species” Scanlon said.
Because it is endangered and endemic to Fiji, the Fiji flying fox is a focus species for NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, which is working with the researchers from South Australia to learn more about this bat.
NatureFiji-MareqetiViti funds the researchers’ work on Taveuni through a grant from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.
Nunia Thomas, Conservation Coordinator for NatureFiji-MareqetiViti was delighted with the find.
“Bats play an important role in forest ecosystems because they pollinate flowers and disperse seeds for many plants.
“The Fiji flying fox may have a key role in Taveuni forests, but we don’t understand that role yet,” Thomas added. “Last year we highlighted the find of a new species of burrowing snake on Taveuni.
“And we now want more people and students in Taveuni and elsewhere in Fiji to know about this remarkable bat and to recognise how special and important it is; it is an icon of Taveuni and Fiji’s unique environment.”
Researchers Annette Scanlon and Guy Bottroff from the University of South Australia work with the National Trust of Fiji and USP on the ecology of bats on Taveuni and at the National Trust’s Waisali Reserve on Vanua Levu.
Fiji has four species of fruit bat or flying fox.
There is the Pacific flying fox (Pteropus tonganus) which is widely known as Beka ihn Fijian; the Samoan Flying Fox (Pteropus samoensis), which is sometimes distinguished as Beka Vula, Beka Lulu or Bekanisiga.
The other two are the Fiji Flying Fox (Mirirmiri acrodonta), which is known only from the upland forests of Taveuni; and the small Fiji Blossom Bat (Notopteris macdonaldi), which has a pretty long tail.

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