The only mzungu in the village

Livingstone's fruit bat camping

Our lodgings for the night

This week it felt like we’d got into the rhythm of the surveys a bit more… maybe my legs had toughened up a bit, or maybe it was because we found some better news than in the disappointing first week. Ishaka and I were heading to visit two roosts I had never been to before, first to one near the village of Limbi, and then to M’romaji, so I was excited, not knowing quite what we might find.

I think the trip to Limbi will hold some of my fondest memories of this study. It seems our arrival in the village was a major event for the community. We were told that this is only the second time a mzungu (foreigner) has stayed in the village. After explaining who we were and what we were doing, the villagers insisted that we pitch our tent in a school classroom for the night because the children were too excited and wouldn’t leave us alone if we were outside. They were still pretty active though, clambering around the windows to get a good look at the weird white lady pitching a tent in their classroom.

Livingstone's fruit bat Comoros survey

Athoumane, the owner of the land perched on the dead tree at our vantage point

Livingstone's fruit bat Comoros survey

Ishaka and Bastoine counting the bats from our precipice

When we turn up to survey a roost we always try to make sure we are accompanied by people from the village who’s land the roost is found in, so that they can see what we’re up to and we can find out their perspective of how the population is doing and the threats to the roost. But it’s not always easy to find people willing to come up with us. This wasn’t a problem in Limbi though and we had two willing volunteers: Bastoine, who used to survey the roost for a local NGO and Athoumane, who owns the land.

This is one of the tougher roosts to get to. It’s on a particularly steep slope (even for Anjouan) in an area of dense natural forest – good news for the bats, but less so for researchers trying to find a vantage point. Our hearts dropped when we arrived at our destination and found a big cloud was blocking our view of the bats… The thought of having to climb up here again didn’t bear thinking about.
Luckily the cloud soon dispersed and we could see some bats hanging peacefully in beautiful forest – a very welcome sight. In the end we found the best view balanced on a fallen tree over a precipice, keeping our eyes on the bats and not looking down!

The topography of the site suggests it’s not at a high risk of deforestation. But despite this Athoumane has still managed to plant banana plants under the roost. This field is important to him because his other fields are not fertile enough to grow bananas and taro. Fortunately for the bats though he is happy that they are in his field and wants to protect them so that they don’t go elsewhere.

After counting 46 bats, we half walked half slid down the mountain in high spirits, finally having found a healthy roost.

Livingstone's fruit bat Comoros survey

Livingstone’s fruit bats stretching their wings to sun themselves at the Limbi roost

From Limbi we went on to a roost not too far away at M’romaji. This roost is completely different to the other sites around the island as it’s at the base of a ravine rather than on a steep slope. Ishaka says the roost used to be even closer to the village but moved a few years ago due to disturbance and deforestation.

It’s a noisy roost, but not because of humans but because another species of bat, Pteropus seychellensis, which also inhabits this area in much greater numbers. The seychellensis are far more active and noisy then the larger, tranquil Livingstones. It seems the Livingstones don’t mind the noise here though and numbers have not changed since the last surveys.

Livingstone's fruit bats Comoros survey

Ishaka and Nahouda looking at the M’romaji roost

We were accompanied by Nahouda, who is the head of the village and owns the land around the roost. He shares four fields with his nine brothers, and relies on agriculture for his living. He is obviously passionate about the bats though, and told us that he is the “guardian of the bats” and stops his family from felling the roost trees. When we asked why he said “Because they’re important for Anjouan and the Comoros – they’re only found here! We should plant lots of trees to make sure they don’t disappear.”

After mine and Ishaka’s successful trip, we got back to Mutsamudu and found good news waiting for us from Amelaïd and Daniel’s venture to the Hombo roost. The bats at this roost could well be the cousins of those in the ‘safety net’ populations at Durrell Wildlife Park and Bristol Zoo, as it’s not far from where the first animals were captured. On their trip, Daniel and Amelaid counted almost double the number we observed in the wet season six months ago – a whopping 167 individuals.

Livingstone's fruit bat Comoros survey

A kapok tree near the Hombo roost where bats were captured for the Durrell (JWPT) captive breeding programme

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