Bat Flash! Action Needed for Durian Pollinators at Risk

The durian is considered the king of fruits throughout Southeast Asia, but it can’t be produced, even in orchards, without bats to pollinate its night-blooming flowers. This important crop could be lost without better appreciation of the key contributions of bats and their habitat needs.

It’s time to give these bats a voice. Rimba’s media statement: Deforestation for Durian Plantations Poses Serious Long-term Risks to Industry’s Productivity and Profitability calls others to action on behalf of durian pollinators. The Star recently published an article, Durian farmers pay the price in the end, highlighting Rimba’s work, reaching more than 7 million unique visitors.

Malay Mail published another supporting article, Weighing in on bats and durians, which boasts over 3 million unique visitors not including the printed version.

The Rimba news release emphasizes the serious impact of deforestation-driven durian expansion to all relevant parties. They call on the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, the Department of Agriculture, the wider durian industry, and individual durian farmers to “think long-term and pursue good agricultural practices for growing durian that is sustainable, contributes to healthy ecosystems, and provides a future for the Malaysian durian industry and Malaysian durian lovers.”

The overall objective of their plan is to promote coordinated action worldwide to safeguard wild and managed pollinators and promote the sustainable use of pollination services, which are vital to both ecosystems and agriculture. We are delighted to see Rimba’s efforts on behalf of bats and the economies they support getting this well deserved attention. Let’s use our voices to amplify the message!

 

TAKE ACTION!

Our combined voices can make a difference. Choose any or all means of contact to reach out to The Star and Malay Mail editors to thank them for sharing this important reporting in your own words. Editors do take notice. Remember, your response can be very simple such as, “I greatly appreciate your support of bats and protection of sustainable durian production.” Editors just need to know you like or dislike an article in order for you to have impact. It’s numbers that count. Bats need all of you!

 

A cave nectar bat (Eonycteris spelaea) pollinating durian flowers. Durian fruits sell for billions of dollars annually in SE Asia, but flowers must be pollinated by bats in order to set fruit. Cave nectar bats and their larger flying fox relatives are its primary pollinators. These bats traditionally formed large colonies in caves but are in alarming decline in most areas, often overharvested for human consumption or killed during careless limestone extraction. This, combined with deforestation, poses a direct threat to durian production, as well as to a variety of other important products.

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Loss of Nectar Bats Threatens Durian Farmers

 

A Cave Nectar Bat pollinating durian flowers
A Cave Nectar Bat pollinating durian flowers

The story of Cave Nectar Bats’ contributions and requirements is complex and only beginning to be fully understood. These bats traditionally formed huge colonies in caves, 100,000 individuals in a single cave. However colonies are extremely vulnerable, and few large colonies remain. People commonly set nets over cave entrances, capturing large numbers to be eaten as a delicacy. Also, limestone quarries pose constant threats of permanent destruction of essential caves, and durian growers themselves sometimes kill large numbers.

 

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Farewell Daniel, Hello PSU

Merlin and Daniel photographing bats in the field

After a rather tense drive from Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary through the risky provinces of Thailand’s Deep South on our way to the Narathiwat Airport, we said goodbye and thanks to Daniel Hargreaves for planning and organizing what had been a fantastic field trip. Daniel needed to return home to the UK, but Merlin and I would stay in Thailand for another week to photograph nectar-feeding bats visiting Parkia flowers, among others. The fruit of Parkia is called petai or stink bean. It’s bat pollinated and exceptionally economically important in Southeast Asia.

Sara Bumrungsri

To help us get these photographs, we would be working with Merlin’s colleague, Dr. Sara Bumrungsri, and his graduate students at Prince of Songkla University, a two-hour drive north of the Narathiwat Airport in the city of Hat Yai.

Pipat Soisook

While working at Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary, we were in the capable hands of one of the Ph.D. candidates at PSU, Pipat Soisook, curator of mammals at the natural history museum on the PSU  campus. Pipat had delivered Daniel safely to the Narathiwat Airport and then Merlin and me to our hotel in Hat Yai. Only five months earlier, an insurgent’s bomb had exploded in the adjoining shopping mall, killing and injuring civilians.

Pushpa Raj Archarya

At our hotel, we were met by Dr. Sara and Pushpa Raj Acharya, a Ph.D. candidate from Nepal. Pushpa is his country’s first bat biologist. As a matter of fact, before Merlin had left his position as Executive Director of Bat Conservation International, he had organized a special BCI scholarship for Pushpa to study durian pollination by bats. Durian is another extremely economically important fruit in SE Asia.

Sara and Merlin enjoying durian outside the university.

It seems to me, durian should be called stink fruit. It’s so malodorous that hotels and airplanes ban it. Yet despite its unpleasant smell, durian has a lot of loyal fans. Dr. Sara is one of them. He enthusiastically bought one to share with us. Merlin is the ultimate frugivore and never met a fruit he didn’t like. Durian was a big hit with him, but I’d rather eat stink beans.

 

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