A Little Knowledge Could Go a Long Way

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Science  12 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6044, pp. 803-804
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6044.803-d

The hunting of wild animals for meat is a threat to many species. Hunting of large fruit bats occurs throughout the Paleotropics, with some estimated harvest rates nearing 75% in a single season. Tropical bat populations are especially vulnerable to high harvest levels because of their low reproductive rates. Fruit bats are the primary pollinators and seed dispersers for many tropical forest trees, including several with high economic importance; thus, their loss could have substantial ecosystem effects. Harrison et al. estimated the influence of hunting on fruit bats within a large area of Indonesia, by interviewing bat hunters and sellers about hunting practices and consumer demand. They found evidence that bat populations are declining in the face of unregulated and aseasonal harvest and that hunting and demand are not abating, despite the apparent declines. Moreover, responses indicated that the practice may endanger the lives of humans involved in the bat trade: both hunters and vendors reported being bitten but were largely unaware that fruit bats can carry Nipah viruses. The authors suggest that educating local people about both the risks of fruit bat consumption and the ecological importance of bats, in addition to more formalized protections, could benefit not only the bats and the forest but the people of the region as well.

Biol Conserv. 144, 10.1016/j.biocon.2011.06.021 (2011).

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