The Star (Nairobi)

12 June 2012

Kenya: Scientists in Bid to Save Taita Bats, Bush Babies

Researchers from Moi University and a United States-based organization are working in collaborative bats and bush babies conservation project in Taita Hills forests.

United State's Bat Conservation International and Chepkoilel University College, a constituent of Moi University, experts are researching on the ecological protection awareness and the roosting habits of bats.

According to research, bats play a vital role in enhancing food security as core pollinators of some important food crops such as bananas, avocadoes, pigeon peas, strawberries, cashew nuts, dates and figs among many other tropical fruits. A lead scientist in the research Daniel Mwamidi blamed the current food crisis in the region, especially low banana productivity on the wanton killing of bats by the local community members on the pretext that bats are evil. "Because bats are nocturnal animals, they are associated with various dangers and fears of darkness and accompanying myths in the communities.These fears have adversely affected the population of bats in Taita Hills and further frustrating conservation efforts of the flying mammals as the locals kill them," said Mwamidi, adding that destruction of their habitat is a threat to their population.

Addressing a public forum in Wundanyi town, Mwamidi said bush babies are on the verge of extinction in the region because of the wanton destruction of their habitat. The biodiversity and ecology expert said Taita Hills forests are important habitats for a number of bats species and called on the community to conserve the forests. "Increased agricultural activities on the forests has led to destruction of the habitats thereby exposing the species to threats of extinction," he said.

He said bats and bush babies play a vital role in that they help in pollinating and regenerating up to 95 per cent of tropical forests besides helping in the biological control of insects and many agricultural pests. "One bat can consume between 3,000 to 6,500 mosquitoes in one night and this helps in controlling malaria hence a good in biological malaria control," he said. Mwamidi said they have launched an awareness campaign through the provincial administration in a bid to protect the endangered mammals. "We shall use area chiefs in their public meetings to teach the local community on the importance of these animals," he said.

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