The role of amateurs in the growth of bat conservation and research in South Africa
During the 1980s and 1990s, Britain experienced an unprecedented increase in scientific and public interest in bat conservation, culminating in 90 ‘bat groups’ by 1992. In South Africa, bats are poorly protected or unprotected, and most of the country's 54 species are poorly known. With the formation of bat interest groups in Kwa- Zulu-Natal and Gauteng in 1994 and 1995, the British ‘bat group’ conservation model was applied in a South African context. The primary aim of South African bat groups has been to promote bats, bat research and bat conservation through public participation and education, and the training of amateur ‘bat workers’ by scientists. I evaluate the success of this approach, based on activities of the Durban Bat Interest Group (DBIG) over four years (1994–1997 inclusive), and on estimates of media impact available for 1994–1996 inclusive. The number of public activities increased by between 14% and 44% per year. Some 12 million South Africans have been exposed to a positive message about bats. A database containing 316 bat roost visit records from 239 individual bat roosts (mostly in buildings) has been compiled. Two species of bats were recorded for the first time in South Africa. Conservation efforts have focussed on a roof-dwelling species restricted to the Durban area, the large- eared free-tailed bat (Otomops martiensseni); this species and one other, the short-eared trident bat, Cloeotis perciuali, have recently been protected in terms of provincial legislation.
Keywords: Chiroptera, bats, conservation, amateurs, roost database, public awareness