Mauritian flying fox (Pteropus niger)

Also known as: Greater Mascarene flying fox, Mauritan flying fox, Mauritius fruit bat
  
French: Grande Roussette Des Mascareignes, Roussette Noire
Spanish: Zorro Volador Negro De Mauricio
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderChiroptera
FamilyPteropodidae
GenusPteropus (1)
SizeWingspan: 80 cm (2)
Forearm length: 14.3 - 16.5 cm (3)
Female weight: 380 - 540 g (3)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).

The only fruit bat still to occur on the island of Mauritius (2) (3), the Mauritian flying fox is a large bat with golden-brown fur, which is lighter on the face and back, and a dark muzzle. Like other members of the Pteropodidae, it has a fox-like face, large eyes, claws on the first and second digits, and no tail (5) (6). The wings are relatively long and narrow, well adapted for travelling long distances to seek out food in the forest canopy (5). Flying foxes are said to have a noticeable, characteristic odour (6).

The Mauritian flying fox is found on the island of Mauritius, in the western Indian Ocean (1) (6) (7) (8). It is thought to be extinct from nearby Réunion (6) (7) (8), although a few individuals have been reported on the island in recent years, possibly blown over from Mauritius by cyclones (1).

This species is usually found near the tops of ridges in primary forest, as well as in areas containing a mixture of native and introduced trees (3).

The Mauritian flying fox roosts in trees, in large colonies known as ‘camps’, which may number from a dozen or so to a few hundred individuals (7). Although some foraging has been reported during the day, most occurs at night, when the bats may range up to 24 kilometres from the roost in search of food (3) (7). The diet consists mainly of fruit (3) (7), supplemented with flowers and leaves, which may contain important nutrients such as protein that are low in fruit (3). As in other flying fox species, fruits are squeezed in the mouth to obtain the juices, and the pulp and seeds are usually spat out (6). The Mauritian flying fox is thought to play a vital role in pollination and seed dispersal, helping to maintain plant diversity in Mauritius’ highly fragmented landscape (3) (5) (8).

There is little information available on reproduction in the Mauritian flying fox. Mating is thought to take place around April (7), with most births occurring between August and November (6). Flying foxes usually give birth to a single young each year, after a gestation period of around 140 to 192 days. The young is carried by the female for the first three to six weeks of life, and reaches sexual maturity at around 18 to 24 months (6).

The Mauritian flying fox is threatened by ongoing habitat loss in the form of deforestation (1) (3). Only an estimated five percent of the original vegetation of Mauritius still survives (9), and over half the plants the Mauritian flying fox now feeds on are introduced species (3). The Mauritian flying fox is also hunted for food and sport, despite being legally protected (1) (3) (7). Pteropus species reproduce relatively slowly, reducing the rate at which populations can recover from any losses (6), and the limited range of the Mauritian flying fox makes it particularly vulnerable to catastrophic events. In particular, habitat loss, as well as opening up the forest to hunters, compounds the threat from cyclones, which can sweep bats from roosts and devastate vegetation, leaving little food for survivors. These effects can be particularly severe where habitat is limited or of poor quality, and where bat populations are already under pressure (6) (7) (8).

Until recently, the Mauritian flying fox population was considered relatively healthy as a result of active protection and a lack of severe cyclones (1). However, in 2006 the government of Mauritius endorsed a programme to cull the bats because of alleged damage to commercial fruit crops, despite opposition from conservation organisations (1) (10). It is not yet known whether further culling will be supported (1), despite fears it will leave the bat population even more vulnerable to catastrophic declines (10).

The Mauritian flying fox has been officially protected in Mauritius since 1993, and is reported to occur in a number of protected areas, including the Black River Gorges National Park (1) (8). The species is also protected under wildlife regulations in Réunion (7), and international trade in Mauritian flying foxes should be controlled under its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (4). However, in addition to culling, illegal hunting is still reported to occur (1).

Conservation measures suggested for the species include assessments of population size and status, habitat protection and restoration, captive breeding, education campaigns, and research into the effects of hunting (1) (7) (8) (10). In addition, assessments are needed on the impact of culling and on the effectiveness of netting fruit trees to prevent damage by foraging bats (1). The importance of the Mauritian flying fox as a pollinator and seed disperser means its protection may be crucial not only to its own survival but also to the future of Mauritius’ remaining forests (8).

To find out more about conservation on Mauritius see:

Mauritian Wildlife Foundation:
http://www.mauritian-wildlife.org

For more information on bat conservation see:

Lubee Bat Conservancy:
http://www.lubee.org

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Republic of Mauritius: National Parks and Conservation Service (May, 2009)
    http://www.gov.mu/portal/sites/moasite/nationalpark/fauna.htm
  3. Nyhagen, D.F., Turnbull, S.D., Olesen, J.M. and Jones, C.G. (2005) An investigation into the role of the Mauritian flying fox, Pteropus niger, in forest regeneration. Biological Conservation, 122: 491 - 497.
  4. CITES (May, 2009)
    http://www.cites.org
  5. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  7. Mickleburgh, S.P., Hutson, A.M. and Racey, P.A. (1992) Old World Fruit Bats: An Action Plan for their Conservation. IUCN/SSC Chiroptera Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. Available at:
    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/html/Old%20world%20fruit%20bats/cover.html
  8. Carroll, J.B. and Feistner, A.T.C. (1996) Conservation of Western Indian Ocean fruit bats. In: Lourenço, W.R. (Ed) Biogéographie de Madagascar. ORSTOM, Paris.
  9. WWF: Mascarene Forests (May, 2009)
    http://www.worldwildlife.org/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/at/at0120_full.html
  10. Lubee Bat Conservancy (May, 2009)
    http://www.lubee.org/Africa-Bat-Conservation-Projects.html