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Rare bats landing at Auckland Zoo


27 September 2007

Rare bats landing at Auckland Zoo

Twelve native short-tailed bats (pekapeka) from the genetically rare Tararua Forest’s Waiohine Valley population leave their current home, Kapiti Island, today, to take up residence at Auckland Zoo.

The Department of Conservation (DOC), Auckland Zoo, and iwi, Kahungunu ki Wairarapa and Rangitane o Wairarapa, are hopeful that the bats will successfully breed to assist the recovery plan for this genetically unique group. The Waiohine Valley population, discovered in the late 1990s, is the only known short-tailed bat population living in the southern North Island, and currently numbers just 200.

Aged between two and three years, the 12 zoo-bound bats have been part of the most ambitious conservation project ever undertaken anywhere in the world for native bats. During 2005 and 2006, this involved DOC taking pregnant females from the wild (Waiohine Valley) to the National Wildlife Centre at Pukaha Mount Bruce until they had given birth and weaned their pups. The females were then returned to Waiohine Valley, and the pups taken to Kapiti Island, held in captivity for several months, and then released on the island.

Unfortunately, while on Kapiti, the young bats were affected by a mystery disease that caused large ear lesions, which they required surgery. The bats all survived, but the yet-to-be-identified disease has meant they can no longer echo-locate properly (a bat’s sonar system for navigating and catching prey). These bats are being moved to the zoo.

“While we are disappointed that a population didn’t establish on Kapiti Island, having these bats at the zoo gives us a unique opportunity to develop skills in captive husbandry, and to work with zoo staff to investigate the causes of the ear lesions,” says DOC Wellington Conservancy fauna technical support officer, Lynn Adams. “It will hopefully also enable us to reintroduce this species to secure sites in the wild.”

The 12 bats will be cared for by specialist native fauna keepers at the zoo’s New Zealand Fauna Conservation Centre, and the zoo’s veterinary team at the New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine (NZCCM).

“Housing native bats is a first for the zoo, and we’re absolutely over the moon at being given this opportunity to contribute to the conservation of this amazing land mammal, and to help increase awareness of its plight,” says Auckland Zoo New Zealand fauna team leader, Andrew Nelson.

While for now the bats will be housed off-display, the zoo is planning to include them in the night forest area of its New Zealand-focused development, Te Wao Nui, which is scheduled to open to visitors in early 2010.



- There are over 950 different species of bats worldwide

- New Zealand has just two terrestrial native mammals – the long-tailed bat (Chalinolobus tuberculatus) and the short-tailed bat (Mystacina tuberculata).

- The Waiohine Valley population is believed to be the last remaining population of short-tailed bats in the south of the North Island – an area isolated from other bat populations about 90,000 years ago by volcanic activity and glaciation.

The short-tailed bat:

- Is divided into 3 sub-species: the kauri forest short-tailed bat, found only in sites in Northland and one on Little Barrier Island; the volcanic plateau short-tailed bat, known from Northland, the central North Island and Taranaki; and the southern short-tailed bat, found on Codfish Island, and in the northwest Nelson and Fiordland areas.

- weighs 12 – 15 grams, has large pointed ears, a free tail, and uses echolocation to navigate and catch its prey.

- eats insects, fruit, nectar and pollen and is the only pollinator of the rare native plant, dactylanthus (known as woodrose).

- has a heart rate of 250 -450 beats per minute while at rest, and 800 beats per minute while flying!

- Unlike most bats, which catch their prey in the air, it has adapted to ground hunting, and spends lots of time on the forest floor, and folds its wings to use as “front limbs” for scrambling around.

Auckland Zoo is an enterprise of Auckland City Council. It is home to the largest collection of native and exotic wildlife species in New Zealand (over 1500 animals and 200 species) and attracts over half a million visitors annually. It is becoming increasingly well known nationally and internationally through the award-winning television programme, 'The Zoo'. At the heart of all Auckland Zoo's work and activities is its mission: "to focus the Zoo’s resources to benefit conservation and provide exciting visitor experiences which inspire and empower people to take positive action for wildlife and the environment". Auckland Zoo is a member of both the Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks & Aquaria (ARAZPA) and the World Association of Zoos & Aquariums (WAZA).

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