Ken Foote, (670) 789-4487
Joan Jewett, (503) 231-6211
Poaching pushes important pollinator species closer to extinction
Federal agents searched five Rota homes Friday as part of an investigation into the recent poaching of protected Mariana fruit bats that decimated two of the island's three remaining colonies.
Agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and eight other federal agencies conducted the searches. The Mariana fruit bat is protected as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Killing a protected species, or destroying its habitat, is a federal criminal offense. In addition, the hunting of Mariana fruit bats has been outlawed by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) since the 1990s.
Known as 'fanihi' in Chamorro, the Mariana fruit bat was once common throughout the Northern Marianas and was an important food to the Chamorro people. In the past few decades, the bat's numbers have plummeted, mostly due to habitat loss and hunting.
Recent poaching on Rota has pushed the species closer to extinction. Biologists estimate that about 190 fruit bats were destroyed between the two colonies.
Biologists have encountered three fruit bat poaching incidents on Rota in the past six months. They estimate that as much as 14 percent of the already imperiled bat population has been destroyed. Only 1,000 or fewer Mariana fruit bats remain on Rota, compared to an estimated 2,500 as recently as the year 2000.
"We are urging anyone with information about the poaching of these rare animals to please come forward," said Paul Chang, Special Agent in Charge of Law Enforcement for the Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Region. "The future of an entire species may depend on it."
Other agencies participating in the investigation include the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; Federal Bureau of Investigation; National Marine Fisheries Service; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; U.S. Coast Guard; U.S. Marshals, and the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Assistance was also provided by Leonardo M. Rapadas, United States Attorney.
Hunting at fruit bat colonies is particularly harmful because the colonies are primarily composed of females, infants and juveniles, with a few breeding males. A Mariana fruit bat produces only one offspring at a time, which may stay with the mother for at least a year. This causes the population to grow very slowly and makes every female and offspring crucial to the recovery and long-term survival of the species.
The Mariana fruit bat is a medium-sized bat found only in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Fewer than 100 of the bats remain on Guam and fewer than 5,000 in all of the CNMI. The bats live in colonies, primarily in native forests, of a few individuals to more than 800. They group themselves into harems (one male with two to 15 females) or bachelor groups consisting primarily of males. The colonies sleep during much of the day, with bats gradually departing for several hours after sunset to forage. They mostly eat the fruits and flowers of native plants and are important components of tropical forest ecosystems. They disperse plant seeds and thereby help maintain forest diversity and contribute to plant regeneration following typhoons and other catastrophic events.
Strong fliers that traverse long distances, the Mariana fruit bat can easily fly between islands ranging from 18 to 62 miles apart. The species is a member of the family Pteropodidae, which is often referred to as flying foxes because of the canine appearance of the face. The bats range in weight from 0.66 pounds to 1.15 pounds (males are slightly larger than females) and have an impressive wing span ranging from 2.75 feet to 3.5 feet. All Mariana fruit bats have grizzled black to brown fur and a golden brown mantle. The head color varies from brown to dark brown.
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Note to Editors: Images are available by calling Ken Foote at 670-789-4487.