PETALING JAYA: Malaysia has not enough researchers who specialise in the conservation ecology of flying foxes, and the lack of data has put local conservationists in a quandary over how to save the endangered megabat species.
Dr Sheema Abdul Aziz (pic below), the only ecologist in Malaysia specialising in flying fox conservation ecology, said the flying fox is a forgotten animal.
“It is an animal group that has been neglected for so long that we do not have enough information to be able to take the right conservation action,” she said.
“Flying foxes have been completely ignored by research and conservation groups because bats have a bad reputation – they are not cute and cuddly like tigers and elephants,” she said of the winged mammal.
She added that the flying fox is a victim of the negative perception of it as a health threat and a pest.
Yet, research has shown that flying foxes, along with other bat species, are major pollinators of the durian fruit, and their extinction could affect the nation’s durian supply.
“The current studies on flying foxes revolve around virology as they were found to be the host of the deadly Nipah virus that caused an outbreak here in 1998.
“However, we need more research to understand the beneficial aspects of flying foxes to overcome these negative perceptions, so we can determine effective conservation actions,” she said.
Dr Sheema, who has been studying flying foxes since 2013, took up the task for her PhD research as she was fascinated by their unique interaction with plants.
“I was interested in flying foxes when I learned bats are helping us by pollinating and producing durian fruit – it was something that many people did not know,” she said.
She said that studies overseas have noted the importance of flying foxes as seed dispersers and pollinators, but there is not enough local data to fully understand their ecological services, population size, and conservation methods here.
She added there was also an urgent need to research the conflict between flying foxes and fruit farmers who want the animal eradicated.
“We need to understand how much economic loss flying foxes are causing and come up with effective conflict mitigation options,” she said.
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