Traveling to Mauritius

By Kim Lengel, Vice President of Education and Conservation

Veterinarian Dr. Tim Georoff and I left Monday morning from JFK Airport in New York City 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 Gerald Durrell Endemic Wildlife Sanctuary (GDEWS) in Mauritius. 

Book by conservationist Gerald Durrell describing his mission to Rodrigues to save the bats.
Rodrigues fruit bats are actually not found in Mauritius but in the nearby Mascarene island of Rodrigues. In the 1970s, their numbers had dropped to fewer than 100, making this species among the most critically endangered bats in the world. In stepped the famous author and conservationist Gerald Durrell. He personally rescued some bats from Rodrigues and set up a colony on Mauritius as a hedge against possible extinction in the wild. The bat colony on Mauritius gradually grew, and eventually, some of these bats made their way to various captive breeding centers in the world, including the Philadelphia Zoo.
Thirty-five years after they were originally rescued, the Rodrigues fruit bat population in zoos is doing well, and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) decided they no longer needed to maintain such a large colony on Mauritius. Because these bats were born in captivity and would not be good candidates for reintroduction, and because the wild population is doing so well now—more on that later—our colleagues at MWF contacted us to see if we could absorb their bats into the US zoo population. I manage the Rodrigues fruit bat population in US zoos, and I jumped at the chance to import some new genetic lines for our population and to help our long-time conservation partners at MWF. 

Rodrigues fruit bat
Rodrigues Fruit Bat (MWF photo)
Beth Bahner
The Zoo’s Animal Collections Manager, Beth Bahner.
Typically when we transport animals, even internationally, we do not accompany them, but this move was different. The bats would be travelling a long way—about 5 hours from Mauritius to Johannesburg, an 8-hour layover in Johannesburg, and then another 16 or so hours to JFK, followed by a 2-hour drive south to Philly. We wanted to make sure the bats were well prepared for their journey, so we had their travel carriers shipped to Mauritus from Phllly and will work with staff at the GDEWS to set up the bats for their trip. We will also make sure that the bats are as well provisioned as possible during their long journey by feeding them enroute. The Zoo's Animal Collections Manager, Beth Bahner, has literally worked for months to gain permission for us to access the bats to feed them in the cargo area of the O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg.  With 30+ years of experience arranging animal moves around the US and the world, Beth has experienced a lot, but even she was challenged by all the restrictions and regulations governing this animal move. 

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.