Conservation work at the Oregon Zoo continues despite the pandemic.
Three Rodrigues flying foxes were born this month, adding to a bat population once considered among the most imperiled on earth.
Back in the 1970s, much of the Rodrigues bat forest habitat had been cleared on their only native island — Rodrigues Island in the Indian Ocean, 900 miles east of Madagascar.
After one particularly bad storm, only about 100 bats remained.
But after four decades of conservation efforts, there are now 20,000 bats on the island and in zoos around the world.
Oregon Zoo animal curator, Amy Cutting, said their colony had three babies in one month, which is unusual. “Anytime an animal is reproducing and caring for its young,” Cutting said, “you can have confidence that they’re living a fulfilled life.”
Two newborns are being cared for by their mothers. The mother of the third newborn died, so it’s now being hand-reared using an upside-down bat sock-mom.
“Normally when you’re hand-raising an animal, you have to make sure it’s upright, so it don’t aspirate,” said Cutting. “With bats, you have to make sure they’re upside down so they don’t aspirate. So it is a little bit different from other species.”
The newborn is fed a formula of milk and fruit, like mashed banana, made specifically for bats.
Rodrigues bats are comparatively large for bats, closer in size to prairie dog. They play an important ecological role on Rodrigues island, where few other pollinators and seed dispersers exist.
The Oregon Zoo began housing “Rods” — as they’re called in zoological circles — in 1994, and has raised more than 50 pups, sending some to other zoos as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species survival plan. The plan helps maintain a genetically diverse, self-sustaining population for the long-term benefit of the animals.
“Keeping a healthy insurance population in zoos is especially important for this species,” Cutting said. “With so few left and such a limited geographic range, a severe weather event on their island could essentially wipe them out.”
The Oregon Zoo’s bat exhibit is currently closed to the public. But the zoo itself is open Friday to Monday with a one-way path that’s been set up to stop the spread of COVID-19.