Post truth handy in renewed mass culling flying foxes threatened with extinction on Mauritius

A little more than a year ago, I wrote about the government lead mass culling of the Mauritian flying foxes. At that time, I pointed out how the decision was based on nothing but thin air. This year, there is a word for it: post-truth.

Mauritius flying fox resting during the day
Mauritius flying fox resting during the day

Post-truth seems to be a fast-growing fashion worldwide. This is one desolate reality brought by the digital era. When we thought that this connectivity would make it easier to have access to knowledge and science, many people instead found it much easier to use it consolidate their own personal belief or opinion, no matter what.

Mauritius has come forward to show the world how the post-truth era is a great place indeed. Last week, it announced a new mass culling of its endemic flying foxes. Despite having wiped out over 40% of the population of this endemic threatened species in a matter of a month in 2015, now the Government of Mauritius decides that it is pertinent to go ahead with yet another mass cull. If all goes as planned, within just over a year, at least half of the world population of Mauritius flying foxes would have been wiped off the face of the Earth.

The army went to places where the animals congregate during the day, including natural forests and protected areas and opened fire. The reason for this barbaric action is simple: trying to increasing profit of a few. All tax payers to the Government of Mauritius chipped in, even if this would benefit a handful of people. Worst, profits did not increase as expected simply because the main losses to litchis and mangoes are not caused by the flying foxes.

The mass culling has also a far more detrimental consequence. Mauritius has proportionally a high level of endemism per area of land. Although it was one of the last places to be colonised by humans, today it has ranks as having the most endangered terrestrial biota in the world. The reasons: deforestation and introduction of alien species that became pest. Today, the best-preserved forests of Mauritius are mostly legally protected but they are dominated by invasive alien plants. In a matter of decades, some of these best-preserved forests lost half of its large native trees due to alien plant invasion. These facts make the future of Mauritian native forest bleak indeed. The Mauritian Flying fox is the only remaining seed disperser of many of the large trees of the Mauritian forests, particularly that two other flying fox species have already been exterminated in Mauritius. Wiping out most of the surviving flying foxes will mean that less seeds will be dispersed, making forest regeneration even more difficult (as flying foxes need to be in fair numbers for effectively dispersing seeds). As the invasion of the native forest of Mauritius is progressing and the population of its main seed disperser is spiralling down, it is simple to join the dots. The Mauritian forest and its rich biodiversity is heading towards being as dead as the dodo (oops, another Mauritian), through the actions of its own government, which by the way, took commitment to protect and restore its rich and unique biodiversity.

So, why is mass culling – a means proven ineffective to increase fruit production – being done again this year? In the post-truth era, reasoning is not necessary. The answer is….uhm…because it will make some happy, or because it will….[please insert whatever belief or opinion here, especially unfounded].


References cited

Florens, FBV 2016. Biodiversity law: Mauritius culls threatened fruit bats. Nature 530 (7588): 33.

Florens, FBV 2015. Flying foxes face cull despite evidence. Science 350 (6266): 1325.

Florens, FBV et al in press. Long-term declines of native trees in an oceanic island’s tropical forests invaded by alien plants. Applied Vegetation Science. 10.1111/avsc.12273

Florens, FBV et al 2016. Invasive alien plants progress to dominate protected and best-preserved wet forests of an oceanic island. Journal for Nature Conservation 34: 93–100

McConkey, K & Drake, D 2006. Flying foxes cease to function as seed dispersers long before they become rare. Ecology 87(2): 271-276.

Oleksy, R 2015. The impact of the endangered Mauritius Fruit Bat (Pteropus niger) on commercial fruit farms. Final report. The Rufford Foundation.