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Do fruit bats deserve to be listed as vermin in the Indian Wildlife (Protection) & Amended Acts? A critical review

  • Natarajan Singaravelan (a1), Ganapathy Marimuthu (a1) and Paul A. Racey (a2)

Abstract

Of the 13 species of fruit bats occurring in India, the Indian flying fox Pteropus giganteus, the dog-faced fruit bat Rousettus leschenaultii and the greater short-nosed fruit bat Cynopterus sphinx are distributed throughout the country. They usually live in trees (P. giganteus), temples and caves (R. leschenaultii) and foliage (C. sphinx) and feed on fruits such as fig Ficus spp., Singapore cherry Muntingia calabura, Indian almond Terminalia catappa, mango Mangifera indica, guava Psidium guajava as well as leaves, nectar and pollen. The other 10 species live at sea level and at altitudes of > 2,000 m and their distribution and foraging activities may be restricted mainly to forests. Two of them, the Nicobar flying fox Pteropus faunulus and Salim Ali's fruit bat Latidens salimalii are endemic. Although details of their foraging activity are poorly known, there is no evidence that they visit commercial fruit orchards. They feed on wild fruits and disperse seeds widely, contributing to forest regeneration. Although P. giganteus, R. leschenaultii and C. sphinx feed on commercial fruits, their role in pollination and seed dispersal of economically important plants such as kapok Ceiba pentandra, mahua Bassia latifolia and petai Parkia spp. is important. Sacrificial crops such as M. calabura can be used at orchards to reduce the damage bats cause to commercial fruit. Because the ecological services provided by bats are not appreciated by the public and conservation planners, all fruit bat species with one exception are still categorized as vermin and included as such in Schedule V of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and amended Acts. It is now appropriate for the Government of India to revisit this issue and consider removing these pollinators and seed dispersers from the list of vermin in the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

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Corresponding author

School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Tillydrone Avenue, Aberdeen, AB24 2TZ, UK. E-mail p.racey@abdn.ac.uk

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