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Building homes for the conservation of Sri Lankan bats

August 01, 2014
  • Building homes for the conservation of Sri Lankan bats

Although creatures such as the Giant Flying Squirrel and the Small Flying Squirrel possess the ability to become airborne, bats are the only group of mammals capable of flight. Bats have specific physical features such as elongated fingers and the presence of a membrane between their fingers, and between their arms and their bodies which allow them to fly. As typical to mammals, their bodies are covered in fur, and they give birth to live young that feed on their mothers’ milk.

According to the IUCN Red List of 2012, there are 30 species of bats found in Sri Lanka and some of them are of critically endangered status. Although the lethal white nose syndrome fungal disease is responsible for the death of many bats in other countries, it has not yet been recorded in Sri Lanka. However threats such as loss of habitat are detrimentally affecting local bat populations.

What is often overlooked is that these nocturnal creatures play an important role within ecosystems by helping manage insect populations, particularly by consuming pests that damage crops. However, diminishing habitats prevent bats from establishing and developing colonies, resulting in a decline in their populations. As such, it is essential that changes to the environment and the interlinked impact on bat habitats are monitored, and that proactive measures for conservation are undertaken.

Dilmah Conservation is actively engaged in supporting research towards better understanding and conserving species such as bats which are commonly disregarded or feared despite their valuable ecological contributions. Therefore, the construction of bat boxes has been identified as a simple method to adequately meet the habitation needs of insectivorous bats.

As part of its effort to productively reuse waste materials for environmentally-friendly purposes, Dilmah Conservation has decided to provide refuge for bats using discarded wooden pallets from Dilmah’s Tea Packaging Plant. 8 trial bat houses made from discarded wooden pallets have been installed in suitable locations such as tree trunks and walls, which are not directly exposed to sunlight.

The three designs used, allow for easy access to and from the cavity and the opening at the bottom of the boxes have been positioned at least 5 ft above the ground to discourage predators such as cats and snakes so that these houses can be safely occupied by bats. These bat boxes are intended to attract the smaller species of bats, especially the insectivorous one.

Setting up bat houses as refuge for bats whose habitats have been disrupted, could serve as a timely and necessary intervention to support the conservation of this species, and contribute towards maintaining healthy ecosystems.