Nicobar flying fox (Pteropus faunulus)

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Nicobar flying fox fact file

Nicobar flying fox description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderChiroptera
FamilyPteropodidae
GenusPteropus (1)

The Nicobar flying fox (Pteropus faunulus) is an unusually solitary and elusive member of the genus Pteropus, known as the flying foxes (5). Like other flying foxes, the Nicobar flying fox gets its name from its large eyes and dog-like muzzle (6) (7), which it uses to detect the pungent smell of the fruit on which it feeds (5).

The long, thick and luxuriant fur of the Nicobar flying fox is a rather drab blackish-brown on the back (2) (3), with the occasional white strand, turning to a brighter orange-brown on the underparts and grey on the face and head (3) (6). All flying foxes have long, narrow wings, no tail, and give off a strong, characteristic odour (7) (8).

Size
Head-body length: 17 cm (2)
Forearm length: 10 - 13 cm (3)
Weight
112 - 233 g (3)
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Nicobar flying fox biology

The Nicobar flying fox, like most bats, is mostly active at night (2). Beginning to search for fruit after dusk, most Nicobar flying foxes forage between 8 and 11 pm, although some individuals continue feeding until as late as 4 am (5). The Nicobar flying fox generally prefers seasonally occurring fruits over fruits that grow all year round, and also favours a lot of fruits also eaten by Blyth’s flying fox (Pteropus melanotus) (5). Rather than challenge each other over the fruit, the two bat species instead forage in different areas and from trees of different heights, with the Nicobar flying fox foraging from trees 15 to 20 metres in height and Blyth’s flying fox preferring to forage at heights greater than 20 metres (5).

Due to its fruit diet, the Nicobar flying fox, like many fruit bats, plays a vital role in dispersing forest seeds (10).

The feeding sites of the Nicobar flying fox tend to be separate from the roost sites, where the bat rests during the day (5). Females appear to roost further away from their feeding sites than males (5). Unlike most flying foxes, which roost in large colonies (8), the Nicobar flying fox typically roosts alone in well camouflaged spots, 20 to 30 metres up in the forest canopy. The Nicobar flying fox only forms groups to feed and mate (1) (5).

Most flying foxes have a relatively low reproductive rate for mammals of their size, and give birth to only one pup at a time (8). The Nicobar flying fox is no exception, with females first giving birth aged between four and six years old (9). The Nicobar flying fox breeds during the rainy season, to coincide with the flowering of several of its preferred fruit trees (5).

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Nicobar flying fox range

The Nicobar flying fox occurs on six of the central Nicobar Islands, in the East Indian Ocean (1) (2) (5). It was originally discovered in 1902 on the northern island of Car Nicobar, but is thought to have since become locally extinct there (1) (5).

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Nicobar flying fox habitat

The forested fringes of mangrove swamps, at elevations up to 200 metres above sea level, are the preferred habitat of the Nicobar flying fox (5) (9). It favours forests with large quantities of lianas and climbers, which shelter the bat from predators on the ground (5).

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Nicobar flying fox status

The Nicobar flying fox  is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Nicobar flying fox threats

Numbers of the enigmatic Nicobar flying fox are thought to be decreasing (1), in part because of habitat loss (1) (3) (9). Modernisation of Nicobarese tribal communities in the three decades prior to 2007 saw most of the lowland forest in the Central Nicobar Islands cleared, to allow for farmland and commercial areas (5).

In addition, the tsunami of the 26th December 2004 hit the Nicobar Islands hard, causing considerable damage to the mangrove habitat. However, the impact of this on Nicobar flying fox populations is difficult to judge (5)

The Nicobar flying fox is hunted extensively by the Nicobarese for food and for its supposed medicinal properties. It tends to be hunted in the breeding season, and any pups are taken as pets, after having their forearm bone removed to prevent them from flying away (5) (11). Despite considerable evidence that the Nicobar flying fox is vital in dispersing forest seeds, fruit bats are considered vermin in India, and shooting them is therefore entirely legal (10).

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Nicobar flying fox conservation

The desperate need for a greater understanding of the Nicobar flying fox has been highlighted several times in conferences on bat conservation (9) (12). In 2002, ‘Action Tayam-peh’, a conservation team funded by the BP Conservation Programme, encountered living Nicobar flying foxes for the first time in 91 years, and spent the following years finding out what they could about this secretive bat while staving off its regrettable decline (3) (5).

Since the local people are distrustful of government intervention (3), education programmes have been put in place to teach them about conservation and how to hunt the Nicobar flying foxes sustainably, and appear to have been quite successful (3) (5). In fact, by 2007, the village leaders on Kamorta Island had instructed hunting of flying foxes to be kept to a strict minimum (5).

Other recommended conservation measures include breeding the Nicobar flying fox in captivity, habitat management, and the establishment of protected zones inhabited by this species (5) (9). Despite demonstrations that the Nicobar flying fox is not an agricultural pest, the Indian government has not, at the time of writing, removed the blanket vermin status of flying foxes (10).

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Find out more

Find out about bat conservation:

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Authentication

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

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.
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Glossary

Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Bates, P.J.J. and Harrison, D.L. (1997) Bats of the Indian Subcontinent. Harrison Zoological Museum, Sevenoaks.
  3. Aul, B. and Vijayakumar, S.P. (2003) Distribution and Conservation Status of the Bats (Order: Chiroptera) of Nicobar Islands, India. Final Technical Report submitted to BP Conservation Programme.
  4. CITES (November, 2010)
    http://www.cites.org/
  5. Aul, B. (2007) Ecology and Conservation of the Endemic Nicobar Flying Fox (Pteropus faunulus) in the Nicobar Group of Islands, India. Final Technical Report submitted to BP Conservation Programme.
  6. Srinivasulu, C., Racey, P.A. and Mistry, S. (2010) A key to the bats (Mammalia: Chiroptera) of South Asia. Journal of Threatened Taxa, 2(7): 1001-1076.
  7. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  8. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  9. Molur, S., Marimuthu, G., Srinivasulu, C., Mistry, S., Hutson, A.M., Bates, P.J.J, Walker, S., Priya K.P. and Priya, A.R.B. (2002) Status of South Asian Chiroptera: Conservation Assessment and Management Plan (C.A.M.P.) Workshop Report. Zoo Outreach Organisation, CBSG South Asia and WILD, Coimbatore, India.
  10. Singaravelan, N., Marimuthu, G. and Racey, P.A. (2009) Do fruit bats deserve to be listed as vermin in the Indian Wildlife (Protection) & Amended Acts? A critical review. Oryx, 43(4): 608-613.
  11. Mickleburgh, S., Waylen, K. and Racey, P.A. (2009) Bats as bushmeat: a global review. Oryx, 43(2): 217-234.
  12. Mickleburgh, S.P., Hutson, A.M. and Racey, P.A. (1992) Old World Fruit Bats: An Action Plan for their Conservation. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
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Image credit

Head profile of Nicobar flying fox  
Head profile of Nicobar flying fox

© Ms. Bandana Aul

Ms. Bandana Aul
Research Scholar
Andaman & Nicobar Islands Environmental Team (ANET)
P.B. No: 1, Junglight, Port Blair
Andaman & Nicobar Islands
India

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