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POACHERS DECIMATE ROTA’S ENDANGERED FRUIT BAT Ten percent of total population killed in past six months

By Nazario Rodriguez Jr.

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 6, 2008) - The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Division of Fish and Wildlife raised alarm yesterday over the declining number of Mariana fruit bats on Rota due to illegal hunting.

DFW biologists estimated that about 10 to 14 percent of the total fruit bat population on Rota were killed in a span of just six months, during three separate occurrences.

The CNMI government has placed a moratorium on the hunting of the Mariana fruit bat since the 1990s.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services listed the Mariana fruit bat in 2005 as endangered because of its alarming decline in numbers, so it is a federal offense to hunt them.

DFW said they discovered two poaching activities in two fruit bat colonies on Rota between October 31 and November 1 during regular monitoring work in the area.

In one colony roost site, DFW employees found no bats at all and the ground was littered with .410 and 12-gauge shotgun shells. They also discovered carcasses of the endangered species.

"Based on the state of decay and the garbage left behind, it was determined that the illegal hunting occurred on or around October 26," the report said.

The same poaching activity was discovered in a routine survey on November 1 at another fruit bat colony, where fresh blood on rocks and empty .410 and 12-gauge shotgun shells were found. A dead juvenile male and female bats and an infant still clinging to her mother were also found.

The DFW officers noted that prior to their arrival at the site they noticed five hunters leaving the colony site. They said they have reported this to the Department of Public Safety on Rota, which vowed to investigate the illegal hunting activities.

DFW said there are approximately 190 fruit bats that were disturbed and that any survivors have already left the site and went to safe havens elsewhere. DFW said this was the third time they encountered poaching on Rota in a span of six months. There were other occurrences in June.

Because of these poaching activities, about 10 to 14 percent of the islands' fruit bat population have been killed, according to DFW biologists.

The current fruit bat population went down to about 1,000, compared to the estimated 2,500 in the 1990s to 2000.

"Hunting at fruit bat colonies is particularly harmful as the colonies are primarily composed of females, infants and juveniles, with a few breeding males. The hunting of females with young decreases the chances for population growth," DFW said.

It added that Mariana fruit bats produce only one young at a time, which may stay with the female for at least a year.

Because of this, reproduction is very slow and in turn causes the population to grow slowly, DFW said.

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