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Bat Conservation Group Pushes for Better Protection

Bat Conservation Group Pushes for Better Protection for Endangered Native Bat Species

A group of bat conservationists are banding together to save New Zealand’s endangered native bat species. Recently, bat ecologists and educators from all over the country came together at the 5th New Zealand Bat Conference in Taranaki, to discuss the management of bat populations nationwide. The consensus was that further measures are needed to ensure the protection of both species of native bat, the short-tailed bat and the long-tailed bat, from the risk of extinction.

On Friday, the Department of Conservation (DOC) announced that in the North Island the long-tailed bat is now considered critically endangered, which reveals a major decline in numbers from its 2012 status as ‘vulnerable’. This means that long-tailed bats are more prone to extinction than kiwi, kokako and whio. This has prompted the group to put pressure on the government to increase measures to protect bats. On Wednesday the group sent a letter to relevant ministers in a call to action for better resourcing and direction on bat policies.

While the recent announcement from DOC also revealed good news that the southern short-tailed bat is now ‘recovering’, where previously it was ‘threatened’, bat ecologists are quick to point out that this success is due to sustained and intensive predator control in an intact forest habitat, as the short-tailed bat is still declining in less well managed parts of the country.

The main current threats to bats include predation by stoats, rats, possums and cats and habitat clearance, in particular the loss of old and large trees that the bats require to make their roosts. Bats require a number of different habitats within a large range (up to 50 km) that include waterways, gullies, native forest remnants with large forest tracts, and plantation forestry. With pest control and protection of their habitats, our only native land mammals have the potential to recover.

In the North Island, many long-tailed bat populations can be found in the rural landscape, including plantation forestry. Without careful management of tree felling and protection of key bat roosting and feeding areas their habitat will disappear, and bats will be injured or killed during felling. Educating land owners with bats roosting on their property should also be a priority, as many people have negative opinions about bats and may not wish to protect them. Additionally, on the margins of towns and cities, urban expansion is encroaching on bat habitat and it is likely that bats will also disappear from these areas unless measures are put in place to protect them.

Current measures such as establishing a ‘bat box’ (a wooden structure that is put up high in trees to encourage bats to roost in) to mitigate the felling of potential bat roost trees may not be sufficient to replace lost roosting habitat. Bats are very slow to take up home in bat boxes, and they often do not provide the ideal humidity, temperature and space that large, old trees can offer them.

The letter suggests that the ministers work with bat practitioners to consider updates or changes to current legislation to enhance the protection of bats, and to work with community and industry stakeholders to develop guidelines and education tools. Other proposed options for halting the decline of bat populations included specific policy and regulation to protect and enhance bat habitats in District Plans, Regional Plans and Regional Policy Statements.


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