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.
Golden orb weaving spiders in web.
Mauritian fruit bat feeding in mango tree outside our hotel.
10/02/2013 : Back in the States
It’s 6:30 a.m. New York time and we’re here. Our job now is to get back to the Zoo as quickly as possible.
10/01/2013 : Heading back
We checked the bats and they all looked alert. They had eaten well during the night – a good sign that they were settled in.
09/30/2013 : Catching spiders
Tim, an avid kayaker, was determined not to leave Mauritius without kayaking in the Indian Ocean. So he was up very early on Monday for a sunrise kayak on the bay. He and his guide had a great hour, kayaking with a group of spinner dolphins!
09/29/2013 : Tourist Time
We took a long bus ride to Quatre Bonnes for the weekly market where we had a chance to pick up some souvenirs for family, friends, and coworkers.
09/28/2013 : Getting ready for the move
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.
09/28/2013 : Rare birds in Mauritius
The aviary is only a short ride away from our hotel and houses some of the rarest avian species in the world. The aviary used to be a big center for captive propagation and reintroduction but now currently houses mostly injured or non-releasable specimens, with the exception of the bats.
09/27/2013 : Seeing an old friend
On Friday morning, I was finally able to see Mary Jane Raboude. During her ten years as the first REEP, MJ and I had spent a lot of time together. She had visited the US 4 times for continuing education, to spend time at the Zoo, and to present at conferences. She always stayed at our home so our family had become close to MJ.
09/26/2013 : Anse Quitor and Francois Leguat Tortoise Park
This site is more challenging, in some ways, than Grand Montagne. While it’s generally easier to access – no cliff faces to deal with –because it’s so dry and because wandering domestic animals are more of a problem, reforestation is slower going here.
09/26/2013 : Touring Rodrigues
Very proud to be a part of an organization that has played such a major role in saving a species.
09/25/2013 : Off to Rodrigues
Some more background on how the Philly Zoo became a champion for endangered bats half way around the world.
09/24/2013 : Some background on Mauritius
The Republic of Mauritius is an island nation located about 1200 miles off the southeast coast of the African continent in the Indian Ocean, which includes the principal island of Mauritius, Rodrigues (the only home of the Rodrigues fruit bat), and several smaller outlying islands and archipelagos.
09/24/2013 : Arriving in Mauritius
I'm so excited to return the island where I did my graduate work almost 20 years ago. It's hard to believe I've been working to conserve Rodrigues fruit bats for that long.
09/23/2013 : Traveling to Mauritius
Veterinarian Dr. Tim Georoff and I left Monday morning from JFK airport in NYC for our flight to Mauritius by way of Johannesburg, South Africa. We're travelling all this way for the primary purpose of accompanying 30 Rodrigues fruit bats back to the Zoo from the long-time captive colony of bats at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Center in Mauritius.