Worldwide efforts to save bats boosted by launch of IUCN Action Plan at international conference

06 August 2001 | News story

Gland, Switzerland (06.08.01) IUCN-The World Conservation Union. The launch of a new IUCN bat Action Plan at an international conference in Malaysia has served as a rallying cry to conservationists worldwide to step up efforts to halt the alarming declines in bat populations.

Microchiropteran Bats: Global Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan was launched during a ceremony yesterday at the 12th International Bat Research Conference in Kuala Lumpur by Musa Nordin, Director General of the Division of Wildlife and National Parks, Peninsular Malaysia. The Plan was enthusiastically received by the 140 experts from 20 countries who have gathered for the meeting.

Front cover of the Microbat Action PlanThe Plan, compiled by the Chiroptera Specialist Group of IUCN's Species Survival Commission (SSC), provides a global framework for bat protection and aims to stimulate the growing community of bat biologists and conservationists to a greater level of action.

The 1,000 species of bats (Chiroptera, meaning "hand-wing") make up a quarter of all known mammal species and almost half are considered threatened or near-threatened. The Order Chiroptera is divided into the Megachiroptera - 167 species of Old World fruit bats and the Microchiroptera or "microbats" - 834 species of mostly insect-eating bats.

Many species are highly beneficial as pollinators, seed dispersers, and insect controllers (see facts about bats at the end of this release) yet 22% of microbat species are threatened with extinction by a range of problems including habitat loss through agriculture and forestry, and conflict with humans.

Following the 1992 IUCN/SSC Action Plan for Old World Fruit Bats, publication of the Microbat Action Plan completes the first comprehensive review of the conservation status of all bat species. It examines the problems facing these fascinating animals, outlines conservation activities underway and those needed, and provides a basis for local and regional action.

Promoting public awareness and understanding of bats and dispelling misconceptions about their lifestyle is a key aspect of the Plan's implementation being discussed by the Specialist Group which meets as part of the conference.

"The challenge now is to implement the Plan's recommendations which range from conservation of cave ecosystems at the global level, to local level community education campaigns about the role of bats in pollination and seed dispersal in Ecuador's tropical ecosystems," said Mr Simon Mickleburgh, co-author of the Action Plan with Professor Paul Racey and Mr Tony Hutson.

2001 is the International Year of the Bat, marking the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Agreement on the Conservation of Bats in Europe (EUROBATS).

For more information contact:
Abigail Entwistle Tel: +44 (0)1223 571 000; Fax: +44 (0)1223 461 481; Email: info@fauna-flora.org
Simon Mickleburgh (in Malaysia) E-mail: simonffi@aol.com
Anna Knee Tel: +41 (0)22 999 0153; Email: alk@iucn.org

Important bat facts

· Contrary to popular misconception, bats are not blind, do not become entangled in human hair, and seldom transmit disease to other animals or humans.

· The 20 million Mexican free-tails from Bracken Cave, Texas eat approximately 200 tons of insects nightly.

· Tropical bats are key elements in rain forest ecosystems which rely on them to pollinate flowers and disperse seeds for countless trees and shrubs.

· In the wild, important agricultural plants, from bananas, breadfruit and mangoes to cashews, dates, and figs rely on bats for pollination and seed dispersal.

· Desert ecosystems rely on nectar-feeding bats as primary pollinators of giant cacti, including the famous organ pipe and saguaro of Arizona.

· All mammals can contract rabies; however, even the less than 0.5% of bats that do, normally bite only in self-defence and pose little threat to people who do not handle them.

· Bats are exceptionally vulnerable to extinction, partly because they are the slowest reproducing mammals on earth for their size, most producing only one young annually.

· More than 50% of American bat species are in severe decline or already listed as endangered. Losses are occurring at alarming rates worldwide.

· Loss of bats increases demand for chemical pesticides, can jeopardize whole ecosystems of other animal and plant species, and can harm human economies.

Some other fascinating bat facts

· Bats are the only flying mammals.

· The world's smallest mammal is the bumblebee bat of Thailand, weighing just 2g.

· A single little brown bat can catch 1,200 mosquito-sized insects in just one hour.

· Giant flying foxes that live in Indonesia have wingspans of nearly six feet.

· Fishing bats have echolocation so sophisticated that they can detect a minnow's fin as fine as a human hair, protruding only two millimetres above a pond's surface.

· African heart-nosed bats can hear the footsteps of a beetle walking on sand from a distance of more than six feet.

· The Honduran white bat cuts large leaves to make "tents" that protect its small colonies from jungle rains.

· Disk-winged bats of Latin America have adhesive disks on both wings and feet that enable them to live in unfurling banana leaves (or even walk up a window pane).

· Frog-eating bats identify edible from poisonous frogs by listening to the mating calls of male frogs.

· Mother Mexican free-tailed bats find and nurse their own young, even in huge colonies where many millions of babies cluster at up to 500 per square foot.

Facts courtesy of Bat Conservation International (www.bats.org)