Red List of South African Species

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Least Concern (LC)

Rationale

The large-bodied and gregarious African Straw-coloured Fruit-bat occurs widely across the lowland rainforest and savannah regions of Africa. In the assessment region, it has been widely but patchily recorded across the central plateaus of South Africa. There are no known breeding colonies within the assessment region; the closet one is located in Marromeu in central Mozambique. This species exists in modified landscapes and is often recorded in urban areas. Though it is in decline in other parts of Africa, due to harvesting pressure for bushmeat and traditional medicine, these uses have not been recorded within the assessment region and no regional declines are suspected. Thus, we list this species as Least Concern. Data on additional colonies (especially breeding colonies), population size and trend as well as establishing the threats to this species within the assessment region are needed as it may qualify for a threatened listing and/or a conservation dependent status, especially given the decline of this species in other parts of its range and the potential importance of the assessment region as a regional refuge.

Regional population effects:
Within the assessment region, it is either an irregular visitor, or possibly a regular migrant at the edge of its range, but does not breed within the region. Large-scale feeding and migratory movements have been documented (Richter & Cumming 2008) and thus rescue effects are likely possible.

Distribution

This fruit-bat is broadly distributed across the lowland rainforest and savannah zones of Africa from Senegal in the west, through to South Africa in the south and Ethiopia in the east (possibly ranging into Djibouti and southern Eritrea). This species is sparse or absent in large areas of the Horn of Africa, central East Africa, and elsewhere (Bergmans 1990). It is a migratory species in parts of its range (such as southern Africa); in West Africa, populations migrate from the forest north into the savannah zone during the major wet season. There are numerous individual records from the central plateaus of South Africa and Namibia and it has been widely recorded in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monadjem et al. 2010). The closest breeding colony to South Africa is at Marromeu, central Mozambique (Cotterill 2001). There is also a large colony that roosts in the Botanical Gardens in Maputo (Mozambique). In the assessment region, the species is recorded from the Central Bushveld and East Kalahari Bushveld bioregions in Gauteng, North West, Free State, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape provinces. In the North West and Gauteng, individuals are considered to be solitary wanderers (Skinner & Chimimba 2005). In KwaZulu-Natal, the species has a very restricted distribution, having only being recorded from two locations: Ndumo Game Reserve and Mtunzini (Skinner & Chimimba 2005). There have also been sporadic sightings in the Eastern and Western Cape.

Population trend

Trend

This is a common species across much of its range, forming large colonies of thousands to even millions of individuals (Sørensen & Halberg 2001). Within colonies they may form clusters of up to 100 animals, although this clustering is not always evident in large colonies (Mickleburgh et al. 2008). For example, in western Kenya, total counts of bats at three identified roosts varied from 7,000 to 48,000 individuals (Webala et al. 2014). It is relatively well represented in museums, with over 100 specimens examined in Monadjem et al. (2010). Population size and trend is unknown for the assessment region and, at present, only one breeding colony is known from southern Africa at Marromeu, central Mozambique (Monadjem et al. 2010). However, the collection of pregnant females from Chiniziwa, central Mozambique and Mutare, eastern Zimbabwe affirm that this species does breed in southern Africa (Cotterill 2001).

In West and Central Africa this species is declining due to harvesting for bushmeat (Mickleburgh et al. 2008). Although no declines have been recorded for the population in the assessment region, this should be more thoroughly investigated through systematic long-term monitoring.

Threats

There are no recorded threats in the assessment region. However, African Straw-coloured Fruit-bats are the most heavily harvested bat for bushmeat in West and Central Africa, where they are threatened by hunting for food and medicinal use. The species is also persecuted because it often damages fruit plantations (Monadjem et al. 2010; Webala et al. 2014). Large colonies can be very noisy, and roosting sites of large colonies can be messy, sometimes causing defoliation to the trees in which they roost (Kunz 1996). As tree density is an important factor in roost-site selection (Webala et al. 2014), removal of roost trees could impact this species especially outside protected areas.

Uses and trade

This species is not known to be utilised or traded within the assessment region but it is used for bushmeat and medicine in Central and West Africa where it is one of the most frequently consumed mammals in the region (Mickleburgh et al. 2008). Kamins et al. (2011) estimate, based on interviews with 551 Ghanaians, that a minimum of 128,000 African Straw-coloured Fruit-bats are sold per annum.

Conservation

This species is present in a few protected areas across its entire range, with a large roosting colony in Kasanka National Park, Zambia. African populations are also protected under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) since 2001 (Appendix II). Within the assessment region, it has been recorded from only one protected area: Ndumo Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal (Skinner & Chimimba 2005), which, together with other protected areas in the region, are considered important refuge habitats for the species (K. Richardson pers. comm. 2016). Throughout its range, the highest priority is to limit harvesting to sustainable levels (Mickleburgh et al. 2008). However, this threat needs to be investigated within the assessment region where no direct interventions are possible without first identifying and protecting key roost sites through systematic surveys and monitoring. For example, the Kasanka population depends on a functional network of roosting and foraging sites (intact fruiting woodlands) throughout Zambia and DRC (Monadjem et al. 2010). As this species may be threatened by roost tree clearance and direct persecution and/or harvesting, identifying such a functional network of sites for protected area expansion within the assessment region is a priority. Additionally, an education and community outreach programme in local schools and communities was proposed for the long-term conservation of viable populations in western Kenya (Webala et al. 2014), which could potentially be an intervention in the assessment region, depending on the severity of threats.

Recommendations for land managers and practitioners:

  • Identify and protect important roost sites.
Research priorities:
  • Systematic surveys to identify additional colonies, key roosting sites and potential breeding sites.
  • Research into the migratory and dispersal patterns within the assessment region, as studies on dispersal have been done only in Zambia (for example, Richter & Cumming 2008).
Encouraged citizen actions:
  • Citizens can assist the conservation of the species by reporting sightings on virtual museum platforms (for example, iSpot and MammalMAP), and therefore contribute to an understanding of the species distribution.

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