Monitoring the bat that returned from the dead

by ZSL on

Cuba is known for its salsa, rum and tropical beaches, but did you know it’s also a hotspot for many endemic EDGE species? 

Cuban greater funnel-eared bat
The Cuban greater funnel-eared bat was thought to be extinct

ZSL’s Dr Oliver Wearn and Dr Carolina Soto Navarro are working to conserve the world’s most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species. Joined by two Erasmus Darwin Barlow Expedition attendants, Josh Blackman and Katia Sanchez Ortiz, they embarked on an exhibition to Cuba to do just that.  

A priority for ZSL’s EDGE of Existence Programme that is found solely on the island is the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat, but very little is known about it. In fact, it was thought to be extinct until a population was found in a remote underground cave, Cueva La Barca, in 1992.

This cave provides the hot, humid conditions apparently needed for breeding and is 40°C in the deepest chamber! It’s home to Cuban boas, giant crabs and 13 species of bat, but the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat is special as it’s only found in this one cave, it’s evolutionarily unique and is also threatened. 

recording calls of the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat
Devices were used to listen for and record the ultrasonic call of the bat

Its inherent vulnerability due to its small population size is a threat to the species, but there is also another concern. The cave lies a mere 250 metres inside the boundary of the Guanahacabibes National Park, and if the bats are foraging outside of the park, they could be vulnerable to future threats such as habitat destruction due to logging. So it was important for the team to learn more about this species and its distribution patterns to protect the population. 

Using sound recording devices, it was possible to listen for and record the ultrasonic call of the bat to find out where it goes each night, and how far away from the cave it ventures. Camera trap surveys were also used to find out which holes it was using to exit the cave, and then assess the surrounding forest for invasive species, such as feral pigs and black rats. Carolina also trialled 3D mapping of the cave through photogrammetry – using photography to survey the area. 

The expedition gave a great insight into techniques used to study the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat and also shaped invaluable relationships with local collaborators and helped to identify new prospective EDGE Fellows.

The hope is that the findings will help to shape future conservation efforts to protect this important EDGE species and its habitat. 

Find out more about ZSL's EDGE of Existence 

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