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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (April 1, 2000 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---New Caledonia authorities announced the opening Sunday of the hunting season for the wild, fruit-eating pigeon. Locally, it is known as "notu."

The season will last only for the four weekends in April, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports, with each hunter allowed only five birds per day.

New Caledonia's notu (scientifically named "Ducula goliath"), which dwells in the main island's mountainous interior, is the largest pigeon species in the Pacific French territory.

It can reach 50 to 52 centimeters (about 20 inches) high and weigh up to 850 grams (about 1.9 pounds).

Both notus and bats feed exclusively on fruits (typically papayas and mangoes).

Last year, it was estimated that 1.5 notu would have been taken by the average hunter.

The hunt is also on for bats ("flying foxes"). The season is longer, from April 1 to June 30.

The limit is ten bats per day per hunter.

There are four known species of flying foxes in New Caledonia; three of them (the tailed bat, the red bat and the cave bat) are endemic. The other one (scientifically known as Pteropus tonganus) is common to most Pacific islands.

New Caledonia's hunting association has called on the general public to respect existing regulations, including the specific hunting seasons and not selling the game.

"We call on every hunter to make an effort to abide with those hunting periods and to stop poaching," Territorial Hunting Federation Jean-Marc Sollier said.

On April 8, the small town of Farino will host a "Flying Fox Festival" during which visitors will be able to taste many bat-based dishes.

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