Each year, up to 10 million straw-colored flying foxes enter Zambia’s Kasanka National Park, spreading millions of seeds
The day he was shot will always be remembered by David Mubiana.
It occurred in 2002, when poachers with AK-47 rifles and a shotgun ambushed his squad. He was wounded in his arm and stomach; his spleen had been shredded by a bullet.
As a police officer for wildlife in the Department of National Parks and Wildlife of Zambia, his role is highly dangerous.
You have to get up and keep fighting even though you fall down.
If we do away with our wildlife, [our kids]will not see what we see today,’ he says.
David Mubiana puts his life on the line in Kasanka National Park to watch over straw-colored fruit bats and other wildlife.
Like other conservationists of wildlife, every day he puts his life on the line.
But not every animal that needs safety is an outstanding animal. Mubiana was relocated to Kasanka National Park in central Zambia after the 2002 incident in a park on the border with Angola, where it now protects one of the secrets of nature – and the world’s largest migration of mammals – from poaching and land grabbing. Whilst these poachers target antelope and elephants, the straw bat, Eidolon helvum, is also endangered by their behavior.
The straw bat is classified by the International Union for Nature Conservation as being nearly extinct (IUCN).
Each year, 8-10 million straw bats come to the park to feast on the abundance of fruit between October and December. The bats migrate thousands of miles through savannahs and open land from West Africa through the forests of the Congo Basin to Zambia, dispersing seeds in deforested areas and reforesting and regenerating landscapes as they fly.
In Kasanka, scientists are still trying to find out why these flying foxes congregate in numbers not seen elsewhere. They leave their evergreen swamp fig quarters every night and travel in search of wild berries and fruits for up to 90 km.
One of the largest fruit bats in Africa is the straw-colored fruit bat, listed as Near Endangered on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Fears exist that if their numbers fall below a certain amount, the colony will not survive. “If that turns out to be true, we could be in trouble,” says Dr. Dina Dechmann of the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior, whose team has studied bats for 12 years.
Wildlife rangers use watchtowers to deter poachers and illegal logging by patrolling the park on foot.
While sightings have shown where the bats have been seen, it is unclear the exact path they are taking.
Dechmann’s team is in the process of tracking the migration using satellite trackers. I think this bat is critically important to Africa because it flies long distances, more so than most other species,”I think this bat is critically important to Africa – more so than most other species because they travel long distances,” If you think of the dispersion of seeds, antelopes, monkeys, birds, whatever — even most other bats — will not leave the safety of the trees, so they will not be as successful as the dispersion of seeds.
If you have a colony of several million bats, like in Kasanka, if each one disperses a seed every night, that’s enormous.
The bats face a new challenge from humans who intend to attack them, with the emergence of the Covid 19 pandemic. “These bats are being persecuted because their role as virus hosts is a recurring public theme. Their importance completely outweighs the potential threat,” Dechmann says, adding that their role in direct transmission to humans of viruses such as Covid-19 has not been scientifically established.
A conservation organization in southern Africa, Helen Taylor-Boyd of Bats without Borders, says, “We need to put this in a broader context. The context is that risk is increased by human intrusion into wildlife habitat … [Wildlife] is best left alone, and human intrusion is not a problem caused by wildlife.”
30 new scouts have been employed by the Kasanka Trust to deter illegal logging and avoid poaching in the park.
But habitat loss is fast becoming the park’s greatest threat.
They are gradually displaced, as forests where bats roost and feed are destroyed. Or they remain in the same position and overuse the resources, bats either have to keep foraging.
But it’s as much an issue of habitat and wildlife conservation as it’s a problem of urban-human conflict,’ says Taylor-Boyd.
Deforestation all over Zambia is mi mi