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    Five-Foot Bat, African Delicacy, Is Out in Force for Halloween

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    sang_garuda
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    Five-Foot Bat, African Delicacy, Is Out in Force for Halloween

    Post by sang_garuda on Fri Oct 31, 2008 6:06 pm

    Halloween is getting spookier on Pemba, an island off Tanzania. A giant bat species on the edge of extinction more than a decade ago has quadrupled in number to at least 22,000.

    The increase is due to efforts to protect the forest habitat of the creature, known as the Pemba flying fox, and to stop locals from eating the mammal, Fauna and Flora International, a conservation group that's worked for 13 years to preserve the species, said today in an e-mailed statement.

    ``It's considered a delicacy, and they used to roast it like a chicken, but they don't do that anymore,'' Joy Juma, who works on the group's East Africa program, said in a telephone interview from Nairobi, Kenya, where she is based. Locals now ``benefit from preservation of the bat because tourists come to the island and pay to visit the roost sites.''

    The bat, whose wingspan can reach 5 1/2 feet (1.7 meters), is a rare conservation success. Half of all mammal species are declining, with only 5 percent on the rise, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said on Oct. 6 when it published its Red List of endangered species.

    The Pemba flying fox now numbers at least 22,000, according to a Fauna and Flora survey carried out from March to June. That's up from as few as 4,600 in 1997 and just a few hundred individuals in the early 1990s, according to the Red List, which categorizes the species as ``vulnerable.'' That's the third highest degree of threat for animals still found in the wild.

    The bat, whose Latin name is Pteropus voeltzkowi, has black wings and a tawny body and as an adult weighs between 400 and 650 grams (14 to 23 ounces), less than a typical guinea pig.

    Tourists, Mosques

    Tour guides have been trained and a visitor center has been built to help local residents benefit from ecotourism and the preservation of indigenous wildlife, Cambridge, England-based Fauna and Flora International said. The group has also helped set up two forest reserves to protect the Pemba flying fox.

    Money from guided tours to the areas where the bats roost is plowed back into community funds to pay for communal water pipes and the electricity in mosques, Juma said. ``This is a very good example of how you can work with the community to ensure that a species can be conserved.''


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