Mark Twain said it all: “Mauritius was made first, and then heaven; and that heaven was copied after Mauritius.” It seems to be true, at first glance.
An idyllic tiny island with a favourable climate almost all year round, it appears to be this perfect holiday destination where you can lounge all day in the sun, drink coconut water on the beach and go for a swim in the clear blue turquoise water. However, behind this image of perfection that it’s selling, Mauritius, my dear country, as from last week, is responsible for a never ending bloodbath that is probably going to bring hell on this supposed paradise island that tourists pay shit loads of money to visit.
As of the 7th of November 2015, confirmed by a press communiqué, the fruit bat cull – mass murder –, as a urgent response to reduce the losses incurred by fruit farmers supposedly due to bats, had been officially implemented putting 18,000 endemic Mauritian fruit bats, or as their real name is, Mauritian flying foxes, in their natural habitats, even in the protested areas at risk. With a wingspan of about 70 cm and its fox-like face, the Mauritian flying fox (Pteropus niger) lives up to its name and is even described as ‘flying liquid gold’ due its fur colour. Until 2013, it had been classified as an endangered species after which its status was changed to vulnerable with an estimate of a few tens thousands now existing in the wild.
With only 2% of native forests remaining, Mauritius depends on the flying fox, along with other native fauna such as the endemic birds, for seen dispersion and pollination, and hence the regeneration of the forest. The forests are highly degraded and continuing deforestation isn’t helping. According to a study, the flying fox’s diet included 32% of native flora, indicating that they are one of the major seed dispersers, and pollinators of the native plants species of Mauritius. In addition, it is also believe that some plant species show signs of adaption to bats or even dependence as pilot studies have shown that bats are the only native vertebrate feeding on them.
Fruit growers estimate that 50,000 kg of litchis is eaten every year, and that this is increasing at a worrying rate of 10% annually. However, a recent study in 2014 showed a completely different story: only about 3-11% of fruit losses are accounted by bats. Birds and rats are responsible for such losses, and not to mention natural causes such as wind, over-fruiting or over-riping. Despite the fact that this was duly communicated to the government, science is obviously being merely overlooked in favour of preconceived assumptions.
Whilst this is being put forward as an action which will be beneficial to the Mauritian population, the naivety of the government (I’m optimitically assuming they mean well and nothing else) is going to set the country back in some many ways. Mauritius has seen an increase in flood hazards in the recent years, believed to be as a result of the widespread deforestation. The science is simple: less trees leads to more erosion and floods. And then what happens when we take one of the major dispersers and pollinators out of the equation? I’ll leave you to answer that. I found it hilarious when I heard what the government plan was in terms of providing more space for bats to feed instead of fruit orchards (which are not the main sources of food for bats):
“…. Moreover, our native forests which are primary roosting and feeding sites for bats are being increased and appropriate fruit trees such as jack fruit, mangoes and guavas are being planted to provide food for bats”.
Oh yes, let’s just plant more invasive species instead of more native species which these species along with other natives depend on and which are more favourable for our ecosystem, because that makes so much sense. Furthermore, the cull is being implemented in the breeding season of the flying fox which would mean that many females would be pregnant and/or lactating and babies would either be killed in the process or as an aftermath from having no access to food.
Two species of flying foxes have already gone extinct in Mauritius, and it would seem that the third and last surviving one is on its way. Our history books blame the Dutch for the loss of the Dodo but it would seem, this one is on our hands.