Flying fox bats have a wide distribution from Australia and Southeast Asia to the western Indian Ocean but surprisingly are not found on mainland Africa. Two species are recorded on Tanzania’s offshore islands.

Pemba Island, 40km off the Tanzanian coast is home to the Pemba flying fox, which was first described in 1909.  This species is distinctive for its bright chestnut-orange fur.

It feeds mainly on fruit, but may also consume nectar, pollen and leaves.

Pemba flying fox facts:

The Pemba flying fox has traditionally been hunted by local Pembaris as a source of food, originally using simple traps on long sticks, and more recently with shotguns.

Reports in the early 1990s indicated that the species was at risk of extinction as a result of hunting and habitat loss, and consequently, the species was listed as Critically Endangered.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has supported the Department of Commercial Crops, Fruits and Forestry on Pemba Island to undertake a range of conservation activities over the past decade.

These have included working closely with the community and monitoring bat roosting sites. The result has been a remarkable conservation success that has seen the bat population recovers dramatically.

The Pemba flying fox has a charismatic fox or dog-like face which is covered with a coat of bright auburn fur. These bats represent the largest fruit bats in the world. Although they weigh just about 400 – 650g, their wings can span over 5.5 feet across.

They live in large social colonies of up to 850 individuals. Their diet consists mainly of fruit such as figs, breadfruit, and mangos, as well as nectar, pollen, flowers, and leaves. They are an important species for seed dispersal because they carry fruit and plant seeds in their digestive system to other parts of the island.

The conservation of this bat instills a sense of pride and progress in the local people who actively participate to preserve their local environment. The economic returns garnered through this small community tourism project have already proven to be a great help in strengthening their community.

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