Question: What iconic animal went extinct on Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean that's astonishingly rich in locally endemic -- and critically endangered -- species?
Answer: The Dodo
Question: What famous animal in Mauritius is currently being severely persecuted?
Answer: The Mauritian flying fox
Here, an anonymous observer from Mauritius tells us the story of the Mauritian flying fox -- an endemic species that plays key ecological roles as a seed disperser and pollinator -- but that's facing wholesale slaughter in the only place on Earth where it occurs.
The culling started two weeks ago, on November 7.
The decision to cull 18,000 of these rare bats was announced on October 6. However, there was a complication: the bat was a protected species.
No problem. Just two weeks later, a new biodiversity law was passed to provide "better protection of native biodiversity".
The new law allows wildlife to be killed "in exceptional circumstances and where human life or national interest prevail". Hmmm. If your eyes are rolling you are not alone.
The Government declared that its "bold and unpopular" decision was made to protect strategic locations such as the airport. However, that's not the real reason the bats are being slaughtered. They are dying because they're perceived to damage backyard fruit trees.
A recent study shows that a lot more fruits are lost to natural causes (13-29 percent), than to bats (3-11 percent) or birds (1-8 percent), at least for mangoes and lychee fruits in orchards. A government report claims that bats actually are a serious pest for lychees -- but, conveniently, that report isn't publicly available.
Getting bats to avoid fruit trees is easy, by putting nets over the trees. And tree pruning is an easy way to increase fruit yield. But backyard owners don't want to be bothered; it's easier to just kill the bats.
The agri-industry of Mauritius provides just 3.2 percent of the nation's GDP, and a lot of that is crops that bats don't eat, such as sugarcane and pineapples, the leading export fruit.
With so many urgent and bigger problems facing the government, how important is a major cull of these rare flying foxes?
Among developing nations, Mauritius is relatively wealthy and has a thriving ecotourism industry. In an age in which many expect conservation decisions to be based on evidence, Mauritius has decided to blatantly disregard the advice of the scientific community and the many alternatives to reduce flying-fox conflicts (for more on this sordid tale, see here, here, and here).
For an island-nation that has more critically endangered and extinct species than almost anywhere on Earth, it seems wildly illogical to slaughter an ecologically vital species whose numbers are already greatly reduced -- and whose only sin is that it happens to feed occasionally on planted fruit trees.
Perhaps the many tourists who flock to Mauritius each year should vacation elsewhere.
Or even better, email the government (firstname.lastname@example.org) to say you won't visit Mauritius until this environmental travesty is halted.