The truth about bats - A new Action Plan to boost their conservation

Gland, Switzerland (IUCN) 28.06.01. A new Action Plan that unveils the often feared, but fascinating world of bats and provides a framework for their conservation worldwide has been published by IUCN's Species Survival Commission (SSC) to coincide with "International Year of the Bat."

Bats hiding out in an opening heliconia leaf. Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica.

Bats have always faced a public image problem, largely through misconception and superstition about their lifestyle. Populations around the world have suffered alarming declines through a variety of threats. Yet public appreciation of these gregarious creatures which can cluster in millions, and hunt and migrate long distances in the dark, is slowly growing.

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). Publication of Microchiropteran Bats: Global Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan by the SSC will help the Parties to the Agreement as they increase efforts to promote bat conservation and awareness of the problems facing the species.

There are about 1,000 species of bats (Chiroptera) - 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 - 834 species of mostly insect-eating bats.

Microchiroptera or "microbats" are found on every continent except the Polar regions, and a few isolated oceanic islands, living mainly in forests and woodland. Some act as pollinators and seed dispersers, playing a major role in forest regeneration. A colony of 400 bats can disperse 146 million seeds in one year. Many species also help control insects - at least 100 million bats occupy caves of Central Texas in summer eating over 1,000 tonnes of insects every night.

Despite their importance, 22% of the species are threatened by a range of problems including habitat loss through agriculture and forestry. Some have adapted well to urban areas, feeding and roosting in buildings which sometimes leads to conflict with humans.

The Microchiroptera Action Plan, compiled by the IUCN/SSC Chiroptera Specialist Group, uses information gathered from about 150 bat specialists around the world. Illustrated with maps and photographs, the Plan provides the first detailed review of threats facing bats, conservation activities underway, and those needed to stop the decline in populations. The Plan, which will be launched at the 12th International Bat Research Conference in Malaysia in August 2001, provides a basis for local and regional action.

"We hope this Plan will further stimulate the growing community of bat biologists and conservationists to secure this major part of our biological heritage, " says Professor Paul Racey, who is Co-Chair of the Chiroptera Specialist Group, with Mr Anthony Hutson. "It will greatly boost efforts to increase public awareness and understanding of these extremely important species."

SSC Action Plans are one of the most authoritative sources of species conservation information and are used by natural resource managers, conservationists and government officials around the world. Of the 20 major recommendations outlined in the 1992 Action Plan for Megachiroptera, 15 have been addressed and conservation projects for fruit bats have been started in many countries. For a list of all Action Plans see

SSC Action Plans are available from the IUCN Publications Services Unit. Tel: +44 1223 277894 Fax: +44 1223 277175, Email:

For more information contact:
Professor Paul Racey +44 1224 272858, Email:,
Anthony Hutson Tel: +44 1273 890341, Email:
Simon Mickleburgh +44 1223579477, Email:
Anna Knee Tel: +41 22 9990153, Email:

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