Christmas Island bat 'months from extinction'

Australian government accused of jeopardising fate of tiny pipistrelle

A A A

Australia's rarest mammal, the Christmas Island pipistrelle bat, is months away from extinction, and wildlife experts say the government is failing to take action that could save the species.

A recent audit of the pipistrelle – a minuscule bat found only on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean – concluded that fewer than 20 individuals remain, all roosting under one piece of bark in the same tree.

Experts say the only way to rescue the species is to capture the surviving bats and breed them in captivity. However, the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, claims that would entail "unacceptably high risks" to the pipistrelle, which is not much bigger than the tip of a thumb. Instead, he has set up a captive breeding trial involving a closely related micro-bat.

By the time the trial yields results, the pipistrelle will be extinct, according to Michael Pennay, president of the Australasian Bat Society. Over the past 15 years, the population has fallen by 90 per cent. "If it continues to decline at the same rate, the species will vanish altogether within months," said Mr Pennay, a zoologist.

"It could happen in one day. All it takes is for that tree to fall down – and it's a dead tree."

Australia's leading bat scientists are so concerned that they have drawn up a rescue plan and offered their services for free. A team of experts is willing to travel to Christmas Island, capture the remaining bats and establish them in enclosures at a research station. Mr Garrett has yet to respond.

Australia already has the worst mammal conservation record of any country. Of all the species lost over the past 200 years, nearly half have been Australian. They include the Tasmanian Tiger, or thylacine, which died out in the 1930s. Thanks to conservation efforts, it is half a century since the last Australian mammal, a species of wallaby, became extinct. Now, unless Mr Garrett has a change of heart, the pipistrelle looks likely to join the long list.

Bat experts accuse the government of dragging its feet. The pipistrelle has been classified as critically endangered, the highest risk category, since 2006. Covered in soft fur, the creatures weigh less than a 10p piece. Contrary to popular perception about bats, they have excellent eyesight. They also use a sonar-like system to navigate their surroundings.

Scientists have no idea why the population has decreased so catastrophically, but they theorise that disease, or introduced pests – which include black rats, yellow crazy ants, wolf snakes and giant centipedes – may be to blame. Several other species native to Christmas Island have experienced steep declines, or disappeared.

Most of Christmas Island is a national park, so habitat loss is not a factor. The island was annexed by Britain in the late 19th century; sovereignty was transferred to Australia in 1958, and nowadays about 1,500 people of Chinese, European and Malay ancestry live there.

Mr Pennay insisted that the government trial was unnecessary, since there was already plenty of evidence that micro-bats could thrive in captivity. "The highest priority now is to secure these bats from whatever is threatening them," he said. "If you leave them in the wild, they'll almost certainly go extinct."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee