African bat researchers and conservationists joined together February 15 to create Bat Conservation Africa, an unprecedented network dedicated to conserving bats throughout the vast continent. BCA was launched by 30 bat specialists from 19 African nations during the first African Bat Conservation Summit in Naivasha, Kenya.
“There is a long list of things we need to do, but we have a very good plan and a lot of good people on our team,” said Robert Kityo of Uganda’s Makerere University. “Working together, we shall make this happen.” Kityo was elected to chair the steering committee of the new network.
During the summit at the Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute, a dozen conservationists from the United States, Europe, Latin America and Australia shared their experiences with existing bat-conservation networks in other regions.
Bat Conservation International initiated the weeklong summit and worked with key partners to organize it. BCI provided core financing, including travel expenses for many of the delegates.
Ultimately, the network hopes to improve communication and collaboration among the dedicated but widely scattered conservationists of Africa, to identify key bat-conservation priorities and build conservation capacity throughout the continent. The immediate needs are to develop a Bat Conservation Africa website (a virtual headquarters) and an accessible list of members to enhance and continue the sharing of ideas and data that marked the summit.
Africa is home to more than 250 incredibly diverse bat species, but they face a host of threats from habitat loss to bushmeat hunting and bat populations are declining.
“This is an historic milestone, which marks a new era for bat conservation on the African continent,” said Dave Waldien, BCI Vice President of Operations and International Programs. “It is an honor to work with people so dedicated to bat conservation.”
Other members of the steering committee are Vice Chair Iroro Tanshi of the University of Benin in Nigeria; Eric Bakwo fils of the University of Maroua in Cameroon; Julie Razafimanahaka, director of Madagasikara Voakajy in Madagascar; and Ernest Seamark, Director of AfricanBats in South Africa.
“I am very optimistic,” Tanshi said. “Now we are going to have a much brighter future for bat conservation in Africa.”