Monday, June 27

Why the World’s Largest Mammal Migration Crucial for Africa – Photo Essay | Environment

reThe avid Mubiana will always remember the day he was shot. It happened in 2002, when his unit was ambushed by poachers with AK-47 rifles and a shotgun. He was wounded in the arm and stomach; a bullet ruptured his spleen. As a wildlife police officer in the Zambia Department of National Parks and Wildlife, your job is inherently risky.

“Even if you fall, you have to stand up and keep fighting. If we end our wild life [our children] we are not going to see what we are seeing today, ”he says.

David Mubiana watches out for straw-colored fruit bats migrating in Kasanka National Park, Zambia

Like other wildlife protectors, he risks his life every day. But not every animal that needs protection is a great beast. After the 2002 incident in a park bordering Angola, Mubiana was transferred to Kasanka national park in central Zambia, where it now protects one of nature’s mysteries, and the world’s largest mammalian migration, from poachers and invasion of land. These poachers may be after antelopes and elephants, but their actions also pose a threat to the straw-colored fruit bat, Eidolon helvum.

Straw-colored fruit bats in Kasanka national park

Every year between October and December, between 8 and 10 million straw-colored fruit bats descend on the park to feast on an abundance of fruit. From West Africa, over the forests of the Congo Basin and to Zambia, bats migrate thousands of kilometers over savannas and open land, dispersing seeds in deforested areas and reforesting and regenerating landscapes on their journey. Scientists are still trying to understand why these fruit bats, or “flying foxes,” flock to Kasanka in numbers not seen anywhere else. Each night, they leave their evergreen swamp fig havens to fly up to 55 miles (90 km) in search of wild berries and fruits.


Listed as almost threatened On the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list, the straw-colored fruit bat is one of the largest fruit bats in Africa. There is a fear that if their number falls below a certain amount, the colony may not be able to continue. “If that turns out to be true, we could be in trouble,” says Dr. Dina Dechmann of the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior, whose team has studied bats for 12 years.

A watchtower in the Kasanka national park

Wildlife police officer David Mubiana on one of the park's observation decks.

Wildlife Police Officer David Mubiana climbs onto an observation deck.

David Mubiana patrols the park

While the sightings have revealed where the bats have been seen, the precise route they take is unknown. Dechmann teams are about to deploy satellite trackers to track the migration. “I think this bat is crucial to Africa, more so than most of the other species in that [they] it covers long distances, ”says Dechmann. “If you think about seed dispersal, antelope, monkeys, birds, whatever, even most other bats, they will not leave the protection of the forest canopy, so they are not as effective as seed dispersers. If you have a colony like in Kasanka with several million bats, if each one scatters a seed every night, that’s huge. ”

Fruit bats migrating in Kasanka National Park

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, bats have faced a new threat from humans seeking to attack them. These bats are being persecuted due to constant publicity about their role as hosts for the virus. Its importance completely outweighs the potential threat, ”says Dechmann, adding that its role in transmitting viruses like Covid-19 directly to humans has not been scientifically proven.

Helen Taylor-Boyd of Bats without Borders, a conservation group in southern Africa, says: “We have to put this in a broader context: the context is that risk increases when humans invade animal habitat. . [Wild animals] it’s best to leave them alone, and human encroachment is not a wildlife problem. “

Caroline Makumba, 25 years old

Traps found in Kasanka national park

Scouts in training to patrol the Kasanka National Park

A patrol unit of explorers from Kasanka Park

But habitat loss is fast becoming the park’s main threat. As the forests where the bats roost and feed are lost, they are forced to come out more and more. “The bats will need to feed further away or they will stay in the same place and abuse resources. So it’s a habitat and wildlife management issue as much as a conflict issue between human and urban bats, ”says Taylor-Boyd.

Deforestation in Zambia is alarmingly high in 250,000 to 300,000 hectares (620,000 to 740,000 acres) of forest per year. According to the Kasanka Trust, which manages the park, 10,000 hectares of commercial agriculture have already encroached on a no-go buffer zone around the park. The trust, which has lost 70% of its income due to the pandemic, has employed 30 new explorers to patrol with police officers like Mubiana to prevent illegal deforestation and invasion.

Straw-colored fruit bats migrating in Kasanka National Park, central province of Zambia, November 2020.

Kasanka Trust General Manager Richard Peel says: “Emerging threats from commercial agriculture around the park are extremely dangerous and could end bat migration if left unchecked. This migration depends on healthy and intact forests in and around the park. the [bats] use more than 10 times the size of the national park, highlighting the importance of protecting areas [within it]. “

The areas surrounding the park are also critical for people who depend on the forest for food and income. The trust has helped communities obtain legal ownership of 60,000 hectares of surrounding forest, supporting income-generating activities such as beekeeping. Churchill Musungwa, a volunteer forest ranger, says his community decided to work with the trust after seeing nearby land destroyed.

Fruit bat on tree

“Yes [we] protect the forest, we can benefit as a community in the coming years, ”he says. “When we put up hives we are going to sell the honey; have money to educate our children. We can push [for] our lives to be better. “

Community Forest Guards Placing Beehives

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