Status: Critically endangered
Known as: Bulmer’s Fruit Bat, Megabat.
Estimated numbers left in the wild: 160.
Bulmer’s fruit bat is the sole survivor of a genus with a history that stretches back to the Oligocene, and is a large fruit bat with a length of 24 centimetres and a weight of 600 grams. One of its most unique features is that it has no fur on its back – each wing membrane extends up over its shoulder to the spine, where the membranes meet. These bats have a 1 meter wingspan and range from an umber colour to completely black. They smell intensely of musk.
Fascinatingly, Bulmer’s fruit bat is among the world’s most manoeuvrable bats, able to hover in place like a hummingbird or even fly in reverse. It is perhaps this airborne agility that allows it to roost in caves despite its large size – they are the world’s largest cave-roosting bats. These bats live in mountainous landscapes with mid-level forests and cool temperatures, which contain the types of fruit they prefer, such as figs. They emerge only when it is fully dark and are willing to fly 30 or 40 kilometres to reach their feeding grounds, returning to their roost before the sun rises.
Behavior:Bulmer’s fruit bats show intriguingly cooperative behaviour, directed towards protecting themselves from humans. Several scouts emerge from the cave when it is time to fly to the feeding grounds, and criss-cross the area around the entrance, looking for human activity. They give a steady series of birdlike calls while scouting, apparently to inform the bats in the cave of the situation. If there are humans, the bats will remain in their cave for hours, waiting for the intruders to depart.
Breeding:Females first become pregnant at three years of age, and carry their babies with them to the feeding grounds for several weeks until the young bats become too large and heavy to carry. The natural lifespan in the wild is unknown.
Location: Bulmer’s fruit bat is found only in New Guinea. These bats live in mountainous terrain, and in fact are known to live only in one huge cave in an escarpment that stands 2.4 kilometres above sea level. Other colonies might exist somewhere in the rugged interior, however.
Threats: This unique and distinctive fruit bat was nearly wiped out in the 1970s by hunters supplying meat to mining operations in the area. Large numbers of bats were blasted off the walls with shotguns, leading to the near extinction of the species – the second since the end of the Pleistocene ice age. Recovery has been extremely slow, suggesting the bats are still being shot or trapped for food. Destruction of fruit trees in the area is another menace to the bats’ survival.
Conservation efforts: There are currently no conservation efforts underway to save the Bulmer’s fruit bat, nor are any planned for the near future. These rare bats are completely vulnerable and unassisted, and could easily be wiped out at any time.
Do you know of or are you a part of an organisation that work to conserve the Bulmer’s Fruit Bat, then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.