Sad but typical story below from the New York Times DotEarth blog (http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com), also mentioned on BBC World News, Weds, 26 Aug. 2009.
From the Wildlife Trust, a non-profit organization that works with local scientists around the globe to encourage wildlife and habitat conservation, comes news of the world’s largest fruit bat — a furry critter with a 5-foot wingspan known as the flying fox.Dr. Jonathan Epstein/Wildlife Trust Pteropus vampyrus (shown wearing a satellite telemetry collar – used to help track where these bats fly) is native to Malaysia and the Indonesian archipelago and is heavily hunted for food, sport, traditional medicine and as an agricultural pest in Peninsular Malaysia.
In Malaysia, the bat is endangered by over-hunting and a new study, conducted by the Wildlife Trust in conjunction with Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks, has shown for the first time that the animals travel long distances from country to country, suggesting that, like migratory birds, they should be covered by international protections. The findings were published Tuesday in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology.
The researchers, who surveyed over 30 known roost sites across the Malay peninsula, estimated that there are currently about 100,000 of the bats, named for their fox-like golden red coat and deep brown eyes. But the researchers also calculated that, based on the number of bats being legally killed by hunting — for sport, for food and by farmers who see the bats as pests — the species could be extinct within decades.
“The rates of hunting are unsustainable,” said Dr. Jonathan Epstein, a veterinary epidemiologist with the Wildlife Trust.
Using satellite collars to track the bats’ global travels, the researchers found that the bats in Malaysia also travel to Thailand and Indonesia to feed and roost.
Bats play a critical role in propagating the rainforest by spreading seeds and food, and their absence could have profound effects on the ecology of the entire region, the researcher said, which is why an international plan is needed for their protection.
They can also pass on viruses, as my colleague Donald McNeil noted, reporting on a veterinarian in Australia who was hospitalized with the rare Hendra virus after treating two dying horses. The virus is carried by flying foxes, which are believed to spread it when their urine, saliva or droppings get into animal feed.