http://www.wildlifetrust.org/news/releases/flyingfoxes.shtml, http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/60-second-science/post.cfm?id=worlds-largest-bat-being-hunted-int-2009-08-31, http://wdin.blogspot.com/
Two seemingly unrelated stories, one from the BBC and the other from the Wildlife Disease News Digest that came to me via their listserv once more showcase the subject of the bushmeat trade. The bottom line? Hunting is an old, old tradition and hungry people need to eat and will hunt the wild animals around them.
The first story comes from Madagascar and is headlined Lemurs butchered in Madagascar. Reporter Jody Bourton relates how the recent unrest and loss of law and order and “suspension of conservation aid” has led to wide-spread hunting and consumption of these already threatened or endangered animals. She sates
“The dead lemurs are sold to restaurant owners seeking to serve new delicacies.”This may not be so much a story of hunger as of novelty.This picture shown in Jody’s report, taken by local non-government organisation Fanamby and released by Conservation International shows a basket of smoked lemurs available for sale.
Bourton concludes that
"The problem of illegal killing of lemurs in Madagascar will only be solved when authorities act and are empowered. Also, the big donor agencies, the United States and Europe need to reinstate funding for conservation activities there immediately, or the advances of the past 25 years will forever be lost."
The other story comes from Asia and concerns a different type of bushmeat. In this case it is the world’s largest bat, the so-called large flying fox that is being hunted. The story by John Platt is headlined World's largest bat being hunted into extinction
The study that Platt refers to was headed up by Dr. Jonathan H. Epstein of the Wildlife Trust in New York City. It was published in the August 25 online edition of the Journal of Applied Ecology.
In his report Epstein stated that in Malaysia alone, 22,000 bats are legally hunted every year, and an unknown number are also illegally killed.
He went further to say that
“this level of hunting is unsustainable
for the number of bats in the country and will decimate this ecologically important species."
The only real way to gauge the size of these animals is to look at the pictures (© 2009 Wildlife Trust) that appear on Dr. Epstein’s report. Keen observers will note that the man handling the bat is wearing protective clothing as well as a mask. I am sure that the garments are worn to protect not only the bat from human diseases, but vice versa. We do know that some really nasty viruses can be transmitted to people by Egyptian Fruit Bats in Africa. Check out Ebola and Marburg as a starter. I have not seen any similar reports about disease transmission from bats to humans in Asia, but who knows?
In this case the disappearance of the bats will have much wider implications than just one species. Epstein stated that the bats
"eat fruit and nectar and in doing so they drop seeds around and pollinate trees. So they are critical to the propagation of rainforest plants."