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Samoa: Flying foxes slaughtered at their most vulnerable

APIA, Samoa —  To stay alive these days flying foxes take abnormal risks.

Last December Cyclone Evan felled trees and destroy fruit they rely on for food.


A feature of life since is the rare sight of the nocturnal creatures out in broad daylight, land on fruit trees close to homes and forced to leave the safety of the air to crawl on the ground in a desperate search for food.


Trees like coconuts which are ignored in times of plenty, are now popular destinations for the starved creatures.


Because they have come within easier reach they have been killed often at every opportunity by gun, thrown stones, sling shots and smashed on the ground with sticks and other objects.


The slaughter is illegal.


After cyclones Ofa and Valerie in 1990 and 1991, alarm over a decline in numbers led to a ban in 1992 on the harvest of our two species of flying foxes, Pteropus. samoensis and Pteropus tonganus.


“In spite of this Pteropus continues to be hunted today and laws are not known or ignored because of a lack of enforcement,” says Jenny Roberts, a University of Oxford masters student in a recent – and pre-Cyclone Evan – study.


“Flying fox hunting continues on Upolu in many villages unheeded by the legislation,” says Roberts in her paper, titled Flying Fox Hunting in Samoa: Hunting practices, knowledge and attitudes of hunters on Upolu.


“One hunter was a policeman, not concerned or perhaps aware that the activity was illegal,” she says.


Roberts says there is not enough data to say if the flying fox population can sustain itself or not given deforestation, hunting and other threats.


She suggests “a consistent monitoring of populations to determine their health” so that informed decisions can be made on the management of threats to the creatures.


“Worryingly, many hunters hugely overestimated the reproductive ability of Pteropus, which could misguide their understanding of the sustainability of bat hunting.”


Flying foxes are hunted for food, recreation and pest control.