Hammer-headed fruit bats were the first bats in our collection, on exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 1976. In 1993, the Safari Park welcomed a group of Indian flying foxes, and in 1995, the Zoo became home to 20 Ruwenzori fruit bats.
Today, the Safari Park has a wonderful exhibit for a small breeding colony of Rodrigues fruit bats, an endangered species. Be sure to reserve a little extra time for "hanging around” Nairobi Village and visiting our Bat House! Compactly cute, these little creatures only weigh about 1 pound (0.4 kilograms). Spend some time marveling over their amazing, flexible wings, and 3-foot (1 meter) wingspan, as well as the way they naturally stay suspended by their toes. In fact, upside down is actually "right-side up" for these bats.
Just outside the bat cave is a peek-through photo opportunity where you can pose as a bat. Turn your photo upside down for the finishing touch!
Without active conservation programs, bats face extinction. They have been killed on purpose when people disturbed their caves or hunted them for food or medicine. Bats are the most endangered land mammal in North America. Bats across the eastern US and Canada are losing habitat to human activities and have also fallen prey to a fungal infection called white-nose syndrome. It rousts them during hibernation, leaving them vulnerable to starvation and freezing.
The Rodrigues fruit bat Pteropus rodricensis is also in need of help. This critically endangered species is only found on Rodrigues Island, located about 300 miles east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Most of this bat population is found in a single colony at 3 roost sites they have used for more than 50 years. As local people felled tamarind and mango tress to plant other crops, the favored food of these bats dwindled, as did their numbers. Following a cyclone in 2003, which destroyed habitat and swept bats out to sea, they numbered about 4,000.
Caring for them and breeding them in zoos, such as the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, creates a safety net to keep them for extinction. We hope to establish a small breeding colony of this endangered species, and we've partnered with the Rodrigues Environmental Educator Programme, working with school and community groups to support bat conservation.
Bats do more than earn their keep—insect-eating bats prevent diseases like West Nile virus and save crops from pests; fruit-eaters pollinate plants and disperse seeds while they’re at it. Bat droppings support bacteria useful to humans, including the production of antibiotics. The importance of bats to the environment cannot be exaggerated, and you can help them by creating roosts for them.
Contact a local nature center or park to find out if there is a bat club in your area, or join Bat Conservation International. You can start your own club, help protect local caves and other roosting areas, or build a bat house for your yard or neighborhood.