02/01/2018

Bristol Zoo PhD student battles to save fruit bats from extinction

A Bristol Zoo Gardens PhD student is in a race against time to try to save critically endangered Livingstone’s fruit bats.

Sarah Richdon is working on research which she hopes will help to prevent this enigmatic species being lost forever.

At present there are fewer than 1,300 Livingstone fruit bats left in the wild. In captivity there are just 71 precious individuals of which 12 are at Bristol Zoo Gardens.

Sarah, who works part-time as a volunteer co-ordinator at Bristol Zoo, wants to produce a genetic family tree of all the bats in captivity by comparing their genetic finger-prints.

She is funding her own studies but needs to raise $10,000 (£7,500) to cover the cost of this specialised genetic research.

Sarah has been given £1,000 from the staff development fund at Bristol Zoo but she has to raise the rest by February 2 when the crowd funding appeal runs out. If she does not reach the target she will receive nothing.

She said: “It’s a new and exciting way of funding research that will involve the scientific community and the public.

“We can make a real difference with this project. It is imperative for the survival of this species that we succeed.”

Sarah, who studied zoology at Cardiff University and is now working with Bristol University for her PhD, said it was possible to bring back species from low numbers.

Livingstone’s fruit bats are found in the wild on the Comoros islands in the Indian Ocean north-west of Madagascar. In recent years, more than 45 per cent of the Comoros islands have been transformed into agricultural land depriving the bats of their natural habitat.

It has also affected the eco-system as bats are crucial for re-forestation because they disperse seeds across the island.

Sarah became fascinated with fruit bats when she was a volunteer at Bristol Zoo for 18 months.

She said: “I knew I wanted to do research. I started to look into the fruit bats, their background and discovered there was very little known about them.

“They are highly social animals that live in large groups and each one has its own personality.

But she added: ““Their situation is critical and has a poor prognosis without help. Only with conservation in the field and in captivity can this species survive.”

It will take Sarah two years to complete her genetic research and five to finish her PhD but she intends to publish her findings as she goes along.

“It is important that the information I find is in the public domain so that everyone can benefit,” she said.

To donate to Sarah’s crowd funding appeal go to:

www.tinyurl.com/batonthebrink

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