There’s still a ban on bat hunting
At this time, the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources does not have an exact population estimate of bats in the territory, and they are currently in the process of creating a database to store and report bat population survey information, as well as improving their survey methodology.
This is according to information relayed to DMWR Director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga from DMWR Wildlife Biologist Adam Miles, who is responsible for the bat project.
The issue with the bat population was raised by Swains Island Representative Su’a Alexander Eli Jennings during Matagi-Tofiga’s confirmation hearing in the House of Representatives earlier this year. The lawmaker wanted to know if there was still a local ban on bat hunting, saying there are “way too many” bats in American Samoa.
Ironically, according to information from DMWR, bats have not been reported from Swains Islands, for which Su‘a is the faipule.
When asked if there was a method of determining how fast bats are reproducing, Miles said the bats we have produce only one young per year. And yes, there is still a ban on hunting them, he noted.
According to Miles, there are three species of bats on island. Two of those species are fruit bats — the Samoan fruit bat (pe’a vao) and the white-naped fruit bat (pe’a fanua). The white-naped fruit bat is much more common and roosts in large groups, while the Samoan fruit bat is much rarer and usually roosts by itself.
The third species is a small bat that eats insects. Called the Pacific sheath-tailed bat (pe’ape’avai), this bat roosts in caves with the cave bird, a swiftlet. It was last seen in 1998, and efforts are currently underway to determine if it is now extinct in American Samoa.
Miles said allowing hunting would be dangerous for the bat population because we don’t have a good understanding of how many bats we should have on the island, even though the population is likely increasing.
“Since bats play a vital role in pollination and seed dispersal of forest trees, we need a population that promotes a healthy forest,” he explained.
He referred to a study from Tonga which demonstrated that if the population of the white-naped fruit bat gets too low, the bats no longer function as seed dispersers.
Miles further stated that the bat population is always at risk, and the main threat is cyclones. After devastating cyclones (like Val and Ofa of the early 1990s) the bat population can be reduced by over 90%. He said, “We can’t predict when a devastating cyclone will impact the bats on the island, so having a healthy population is insurance against a potential extinction event.”
Lastly, Miles said that allowing hunting would put the Samoan fruit bat at risk. “The population of the Samoan fruit bat remains low, and introducing hunting pressure could put the population at risk. Additionally, the Samoan fruit bat is more active during the day, which may increase the number taken during hunting.”
Currently, there is no time limit placed on the bat hunting ban.
When asked if bats pose a threat to the local plant and animal populations, Miles explained that bats are required for American Samoa to have a healthy ecosystem. “The bats in American Samoa play a vital role in the pollination and seed dispersal of forest trees. They pose no threats to plants or animals.”
DMWR conducts surveys of the bat population four times a year on Tutuila (and Aunu’u) and twice a year in the Manu’a Islands. The surveys include attempts to locate and count all roosts of the white-naped fruit bat throughout the islands.
To estimate the number of Samoan fruit bats, surveys are conducted during the early morning hours in valleys throughout the island. Miles says they are currently working on ways to improve their methods of counting bats and tracking data.
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