“5 is the Magic Number: Scientists Race to Save Species on Verge of Extinction Due to Mosquitoes
Biologists and conservationists are racing to save a species of bats native to Puerto Rico from extinction after mosquitoes have decimated their population to just five in the wild. The Puerta Rican flower-feeding bats possess a unique feature, they feed predominantly on the flowers of heliconia plants, found only in the Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. However, with Puerto Rico poleaxed by Hurricane Maria in 2017, an invasive species of mosquitoes have taken over the country, leading to a rapid and severe decline in the bat population. By the end of 2019, it had reached such a low point that many researchers and biologists felt that the species, once located in 5 of the island’s 6 regions, would be all but extinct. Faced with this desperate situation, conservationists have come together to create a makeshift bat sanctuary in the heart of Puerto Rico in the hope that it will provide some respite for the remaining five bats. The sanctuary, which is surrounded by eleven-thousand meters of high-tension wires, and has seen bats from Canada and the U.S brought in to act as “population reserves,” in the hope that they might bring some genetic diversity to the species. The team behind its construction are also working to ensure that pesticides and other natural enemies of the bats don’t enter the sanctuary. They also hope to use drone surveillance to monitor the bats, in the hope it might give them a better idea of their feeding and sheltering habits. Despite these efforts, the chances of the species making a complete recovery in the wild are slim, although conservationists remain hopeful that the situation might improve significantly if the habitats are protected and the sanctuary is maintained. Overall, the story of these bats is a stark reminder of how humans have had an enormous impact on the natural world and how it’s essential to protect these species before it’s too late.