The world’s largest mammal migration is under threat
By Zeba Tarannum
As the red sunsets in an uninhabited part of Zambia’s central province, suddenly the flapping wings’ sound was heard, and the sky turned black like a dark cloud.
The evening sky was then occupied by about 10 million or more black yellowish straw-colored fruit bats, locally known as bats or Pteropus.
Experts from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology say this colony of the world’s largest mammals migration comprises Africa’s fruit bats.
Every November, bats arrive during the day in the dense swamps on the Mussola River banks of the Kasanka National Park. And over the next few months, they hang out in a small area less than half a hectare in size. Each tree can withstand up to 10 tons of bats.
During these two months, this small part of Zambia welcomes the dense population of mammals. More than 470 species of birds and 100 mammals live in this park.
As soon as the sun sets, the bats cover the sky and set off to look for wild berries and fruits; the weight of the fruit eaten at night is twice the weight of the bat itself. They return to their habitat in the swamp at dawn by covering a distance of about 50 km.
This happens only once a year, between October and December. However, experts still do not know where these bats spend the rest of the year but suspect they scatter across Africa. The experts say threatened bats are in danger for the restoration of Africa’s forests.
The wooded forest filled with the black yellow-colored bat is known as “the gardeners of Africa” and is important for the regeneration of native fruit trees. As migratory species, they travel thousands of kilometers as some of these bats have tracking devices attached, so researchers have found that they travel more than 965 kilometers a month.
However, not much know about their migration routes. To visualize this distance more clearly, you can mentally draw a straight line from Washington to Detroit. Again it is unknown why they congregate in such large numbers at Kasanka.
But as ancient areas and national parks become threatened, their habitats are disappearing. James Mwanza, community outreach manager at Kasanka Trust, who manages the park, said commercial agriculture is the main threat to natural resources that the park’s bats and communities depend on.
To prevent various developments, we have created a large buffer zone. This buffer zone is important to ensure the coexistence of humans and animals.
There is supposed to be ‘farm, settlement, or activity’ in this buffer zone.
However, Mwanza said, this is not the only step, but other steps are also taking to protect the forest. As part of this, Kasanka Trust has been working with the local community to legally own 60,000 hectares of the parking area.
Churchill Musungwa, a voluntary community forest guard and a farmer saw the forest around him getting destroyed; The Kasanka Trust is working to give his community legal ownership of the land around the park.
Churchill Musungwa further said, if we don’t have any trees, forests, it’s not only us the people but even the birds, the animals – we all will suffer. Nyambe Kalaluka, environmental education officer at the trust, said, we are trying to prevent deforestation through community forests and other initiatives. Most of the people around Kasanka National Park make their living from the forest.
Deforestation is a major issue across Zambia, which is why this crisis has been created. According to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) of the capital Lusaka, the country is anxiously losing 250,000 to 300,000 hectares of forest per year to fuelwood, charcoal, and agriculture.
This area of Zambia largely relies on hydroelectric power. However, a recent drought has increased fuel demand. In that case, about 90% of the country’s population depend on fuelwood.
Davion Gumbo from CIFOR said, due to population growth and overuse of agricultural land in some areas and migration to forests like Kasanka in search of new forests, it is a natural consequence.
He said the deforestation trend is upward. It is not only related to deforestation, but also degradation and qualitative loss of the forest.
The loss of those materials has got an effect in terms of biodiversity. He mentioned the agricultural expansion and clearing of forests to plant crops as the leading causes of deforestation.