Species: Pteropus livingstonii
Size: Length: 30 cm
Average wingspan: 1.4 m
Weight: 500 – 800 g
Description: Livingstone’s Flying Fox is one of the largest bats in existence, and also has the regrettable distinction of being among the most threatened. It has dark brown to black fur, with rusty- or ginger-tipped hairs across the shoulders and in the groin area. While they are bats, flying foxes, (also known as Old World fruit bats), are named after a different animal because their elongated muzzles give them a distinctly foxy appearance. The orange-brown eyes of Livingstone’s Flying Fox are large, reflecting this bat’s well-developed visual senses. This species does not use echolocation, but exhibits typical mammalian hearing, and thus has simple, rounded ears.
Habitat and Distribution: Livingstone’s Flying Fox inhabits forests, above 200 metres on Moheli and above 500 metres on Anjouan. Its roost sites are generally found on southeast facing slopes that receive morning sun and are shaded from noon through late afternoon, in valleys with rivers running though. This species occurs on the islands of Anjouan and Moheli in the Union of the Comoros, an island nation in the western Indian Ocean.
Biology and Ecology: Livingstone’s Flying Fox is predominantly nocturnal, but unlike most bats it is also active during the late afternoon, when it flies from roost sites to feeding sites where forest trees are fruiting. This species locates fruit with its well-developed vision and sense of smell, and feeds throughout the night, resting intermittently. These flying foxes feed primarily on fruit juices; they squeeze pieces of fruit pulp in their mouths, swallow the juice and then spit out the pulp and seeds. Their diet is predominantly fruit from native tree species, though it varies seasonally. They also feed on the flowers of native plants, to obtain the nectar, and occasionally leaves are consumed too. Livingstone’s Flying Fox plays an important role as a forest pollinator and seed dispersal agent.
Livingstone’s Flying Foxes roost in tall trees in medium to large, often noisy, colonies, in which there is a defined social structure, based on dominance. Male flying foxes mark a territory by rubbing branches with the strong musky scent produced by glands in the neck and shoulders, and a dominant male may also use this to mark females that share his roosting or feeding territory, in an attempt to deter other males from rerproducing with these females. Livingstone’s Flying Foxes breed seasonally, generally at the beginning of the rainy season, between August and October, when food is plentiful. Heavily pregnant females cluster in groups away from the males, and give birth the ‘right’ way up, by clinging onto a branch with their thumbs. The pups can usually cling to their mother straight after birth, and then climb to one of the mother’s nipples, where they feed while tucked safely under her wing. At about three weeks of age, the young are left in a ‘crèche’ at night while the mother flies off to feed.
Status and Threats: Livingstone’s Flying Fox is classified as Endangered under the IUCN Redlist and listed on Appendix II of CITES. Once abundant in the vast forests of Anjouan and Moheli, extensive deforestation has led to the worryingly small populations of Livingstone’s Flying Fox in existence today. Native forests of the Comoros Islands continue to decline rapidly, at a rate of 5.6 percent per year, as forests are under-planted with, or cleared for fruit, coconuts, manioc, maize, peas, sweet potatoes and cloves. Cyclones pose another serious threat; major cyclones in 1983 and 1984 were believed to have a significant impact on the Moheli population. It is believed that without urgent action, these incredible bats may be extinct within 25 or 50 years.