Kenya is home to more than 100 bat species, but these invaluable animals face an array of threats from human settlement and charcoal burning to witch doctors and agriculture. And bats have few human allies in Kenya. Now two local conservationists are not only educating residents about the importance of bats, but also teaching the skills needed to protect them.
Simon Musila and Judith Mbau, both of the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi, said the goodwill of villages and towns is critical to bat conservation. So they visited four sites along the nation’s coast, assessing bat diversity and interviewing local residents of their attitudes toward the flying mammals.
They found that villagers generally knew that bats provide such important services as eating insects, seed dispersal and pollinating plants. But their perceptions of bats were overwhelmingly negative. Many considered them to be messengers of evil, ghosts or bad omens. Such attitudes lead to direct killing of bats, the felling of mango trees used as roosts, and attacking roosting bats with slingshots.
Kenya’s coastal bats also suffer from frequent loss of habitat as forests are cleared for farming and human settlements, while bat caves are often overused for tourism and cultural ceremonies, and by witch doctors as sites for consultations with local residents.
Musila and Mbau, with support from BCI’s Global Grassroots Conservation Fund, used data from their interviews for a bat-awareness workshop in Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city. The goal was to empower local communities with real knowledge regarding bats. They invited coastal residents who had shown previous interest in conservation and who were willing to share what they learned with their neighbors.
With posters, a BCI bat-identification guide, formal lectures, taxidermy bats from the National Museums and an assortment of bat-capture equipment, the workshop were judge a major success by those who attended.
The participants produced a list of 39 significant bat-roosting sites based on their personal knowledge of the coastal region. After the workshop, Musila and Mbau visited most of those sites to identify priority roosts for conservation efforts. Kenya’s coastal strip is rich in bat roosts, with a number of caves, as well as roosts in trees, especially mango and baobab trees in the villages, towns and in Mombasa City.
Musila and Mbau note that this initial step toward bat conservation along coastal Kenya is a modest one. But their workshop participants already are sharing their new knowledge, and the prospects for conservation are good.
“We hope to continue and expand this effort into the future by introducing bat houses, which do not yet exist in Kenya, to address the declining availability of natural roosts along the Kenyan coast,” the two conservationists said.