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Getting ready for the move

By Kim Lengel, Vice President of Conservation and Education

We spent most of the day Saturday assembling crates.  We placed the inner crates into the lower half of the outer pet kennel and tested fit. The inner crates had to fit snugly so that they did not move.  They were a perfect fit horizontally but a bit small vertically so we needed to find something to keep them from moving up and down in transit.  Usually, we would roll towels and place them between the inner and outer crates but the bats have very fine nails and I was concerned that they might get their nails stuck in the terrycloth loops and get entangled during the journey.  Turns out those empty plastic water bottles were just the right size and because Mauritius also has potable water issues like Rodrigues, there are plenty of empties around.  Once we had placed the water bottles, we lined the bottom of the crate with absorbent paper towels (carried all the way from the US in my luggage) to ensure against any leakage of liquid out of the crate and then we screwed together the crates.  I drilled holes at all four corners and used heavy plastic cable ties to provide extra insurance that the crates would not fall apart should the screws somehow come loose.  Finally, we attached food and water cups to the inside of the crate.  We planned to feed and water the bats at our layover in Johannesburg – but more about that later.
 
After working on bat crates for half the day, we turned out attention to spiders. While we are here, we have gotten permission to collect some of the introduced Malagasy golden orb spiders that can be found EVERYWHERE on the island.  The US zoo population of these spiders has recently become reduced after 15 years of captive breeding and we were hoping to bring back some new spiders to invigorate the gene pool in the population. We’d gotten lots of coaching on the best way to collect and transport these spiders from the curator of invertebrates at the Toledo Zoo who has worked with them for many years.  But not having worked with spiders myself, I wanted to practice catching one so that I felt comfortable the process.  Fortunately, GDEWS is filled with these spiders so I had plenty to choose from. Their webs are usually suspended about 10 ft in the air between tree branches and I had to use a ladder to access them.  I have to admit being a bit intimidated to be on a ladder with my face inches from these BIG spiders but my initial concerns were all unfounded. Despite their fearsome appearance, the spiders are not aggressive.  They just sat in the middle of their web while I closed a container around them, capturing some of the web inside so that they could continue to be supported on it.  Prior to capturing them, I also placed a “hammock” of paper towel to further support the spider and made sure the cotton pad attached to the inside of the container was wet to provide humidity.  Once inside the cup, the spider didn’t move much – they are “sit and wait” predators and that’s pretty much what they did. 
 
Having assembled the crates and caught a practice spider, we had a few free minutes to look around GDEWS.  At one time all of the enclosures were filled with birds being bred for release – pink pigeons, echo parakeets, Mauritius kestrels, etc. but now that all of these species are re-established in the wild, there are only a few individuals left in the Aviaries of each species that have either health or other challenges and can’t be released.  We got to get up close and personal with all three of the above species. 
 
It was getting dark so we hopped on the bus to go back to the hotel. Back in our rooms after dinner, I heard the distinctive sound of fruit bats breeding.  I pinpointed the noise to a nearby mango tree and using a flashlight, I picked up the eyeshine of two Mauritius fruit bats – Pteropus niger – in the tree.  Tim went to get a closer look and some photos but the bats became spooked and flew off. We were disappointed but no need since in less than a half hour, one of them was back chomping on mangoes.  Tim got a great shot of it caught red-handed eating a mango. Like Rodrigues, there is conflict between fruit growers and bats on Mauritius.  Unlike Rodrigues, Mauritius has a significant lychee fruit industry and the bats love lychees.  The conflict between bats and lychee growers got so intense that there were calls for culling of bats.  MWF lobbied hard for netting the trees to protect the fruit and eventually the government and growers adopted this strategy.  With the trees netted, bats look elsewhere for food and the lychee crop was saved.

Checking the bat crate.
Checking the bat crate.
Golden orb weaving spider in web.
Golden orb weaving spiders in web.
Echo parakeet.
Echo parakeet.
Pink pigeon.
Pink pigeon.
Mauritius kestrel.
Mauritius kestrel.
Mauritian fruit bat feeding in mango tree outside our hotel.
Mauritian fruit bat feeding in mango tree outside our hotel.

Getting ready for the move

By Kim Lengel, Vice President of Conservation and Education

We spent most of the day Saturday assembling crates.  We placed the inner crates into the lower half of the outer pet kennel and tested fit. The inner crates had to fit snugly so that they did not move.  They were a perfect fit horizontally but a bit small vertically so we needed to find something to keep them from moving up and down in transit.  Usually, we would roll towels and place them between the inner and outer crates but the bats have very fine nails and I was concerned that they might get their nails stuck in the terrycloth loops and get entangled during the journey.  Turns out those empty plastic water bottles were just the right size and because Mauritius also has potable water issues like Rodrigues, there are plenty of empties around.  Once we had placed the water bottles, we lined the bottom of the crate with absorbent paper towels (carried all the way from the US in my luggage) to ensure against any leakage of liquid out of the crate and then we screwed together the crates.  I drilled holes at all four corners and used heavy plastic cable ties to provide extra insurance that the crates would not fall apart should the screws somehow come loose.  Finally, we attached food and water cups to the inside of the crate.  We planned to feed and water the bats at our layover in Johannesburg – but more about that later.
 
After working on bat crates for half the day, we turned out attention to spiders. While we are here, we have gotten permission to collect some of the introduced Malagasy golden orb spiders that can be found EVERYWHERE on the island.  The US zoo population of these spiders has recently become reduced after 15 years of captive breeding and we were hoping to bring back some new spiders to invigorate the gene pool in the population. We’d gotten lots of coaching on the best way to collect and transport these spiders from the curator of invertebrates at the Toledo Zoo who has worked with them for many years.  But not having worked with spiders myself, I wanted to practice catching one so that I felt comfortable the process.  Fortunately, the Aviaries are filled with these spiders so I had plenty to choose from. Their webs are usually suspended about 10 ft in the air between tree branches and I had to use a ladder to access them.  I have to admit being a bit intimidated to be on a ladder with my face inches from these BIG spiders but my initial concerns were all unfounded. Despite their fearsome appearance, the spiders and not aggressive.  They just sat in the middle of their web while I closed a container around them, capturing some of the web inside so that they could continue to be supported on it.  Prior to capturing them, I also placed a “hammock” of paper towel to further support the spider and made sure the cotton pad attached to the inside of the container was wet to provide humidity.  Once inside the cup, the spider didn’t move much – they are “sit and wait” predators and that’s pretty much what they did. 
 
Having assembled the crates and caught a practice spider, we had a few free minutes to look around the Aviaries.  At one time all of the enclosures were filled with birds being bred for release – pink pigeons, echo parakeets, Mauritius kestrels, etc. but now that all of these species are re-established in the wild, there are only a few individuals left in the Aviaries of each species that have either health or other challenges and can’t be released.  We got to get up close and personal with all three of the above species. 
 
It was getting dark so we hopped on the bus to go back to the hotel. Back in our rooms after dinner, I heard the distinctive sound of fruit bats breeding.  I pinpointed the noise to a nearby mango tree and using a flashlight, I picked up the eyeshine of two Mauritius fruit bats – Pteropus niger – in the tree.  Tim went to get a closer look and some photos but the bats became spooked and flew off. We were disappointed but no need since in less than a half hour, one of them was back chomping on mangoes.  Tim got a great shot of it caught red-handed eating a mango. Like Rodrigues, there is conflict between fruit growers and bats on Mauritius.  Unlike Rodrigues, Mauritius has a significant lychee fruit industry and the bats love lychees.  The conflict between bats and lychee growers got so intense that there were calls for culling of bats.  MWF lobbied hard for netting the trees to protect the fruit and eventually the government and growers adopted this strategy.  With the trees netted, bats look elsewhere for food and the lychee crop was saved.