HAGÅTÑA — Numbering in the thousands over 50 years ago, what once was a thriving population of Mariana fruit bats, or “fanihi” in Chamorro, now has a scarce population of less than 50.
The fanihi, a subspecies endemic to the Mariana Islands, is a mammal whose diet is comprised of native fruits, nectar, pollen and some leaves.
Because a number of environmental and man-made factors have affected the natural habitat of the fanihi on Guam, their population has declined over the decades.
According to the Guam National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan, the fanihi is currently listed as an endangered species.
On the other hand, although the fanihi was federally listed as endangered on Guam in 1984, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January 2005 published a final rule, listing the fanihi as threatened. However, the threatened status refers to the collective population of the bats throughout the Mariana Islands. Guam’s current population remains endangered.
According to the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, a maximum of 3,000 bats were believed to be on Guam in 1958. Monthly counts on military lands in the 1960s indicated the island’s bat population was dropping.
In addition, fewer than 1,000 bats were believed to exist in 1972, and less than 100 bats were estimated from 1974 to 1977. During an intensive islandwide survey in 1978, it was concluded that fewer than 50 fruit bats survived. The most recent counts indicate fewer than 50 bats remain in Guam.
There are several reasons for the decline of the fanihi’s population.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified five limiting factors, including: • the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; • overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific or educational purposes; • disease or predation; • inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and • other natural or man-made factors affecting its continued existence.
According to Mariana Sanders, a biotech/intern with the Guam National Wildlife Service, the primary factors for its decline are due to overhunting, and most importantly — loss of habitat.
“The Mariana fruit bat is considered a culinary delicacy throughout the Mariana Islands and is hunted extensively as a result,” says Sanders. “But, as of this moment, habitat loss is the most threatening aspect to the survival of this species.