“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant, was castigating those who mistreat individual animals. What would he have thought of people who watch entire species wiped out?
Today fewer than 75 Seychelles Sheath-tailed bats (Sousouris Banan) survive and the pressures which have driven this unique species to the brink of extinction show no sign of abating.
The two largest remaining roosts, one on Silhouette and one in north Mahé, are both threatened by tourism development projects. Previously protected by their remoteness, the areas surrounding the roosts have now become prime tourism targets as Seychelles’ burgeoning tourism industry has consumed many of the country’s most beautiful sites.
The decline of the Soursouri Banan has been swift, dramatic and largely over-looked. As recently as the late 1960’s Sousouris Banan could be seen in Victoria, darting past street lamps and hawking for insects, and roosting in caves containing large numbers of bats. In such conditions who could have imagined that only thirty years later the Sousouris Banan would be about to vanish forever.
Comparisons to some of Seychelles’ endangered land-birds, such as the Magpie-robin and Warbler, the populations of both of which dipped below 20 birds, can easily be drawn. However, where conservationists were able to intervene to protect the birds’ habitat and establish populations on other people-and-predator free islands, a lack of knowledge about the bats’ ecological requirements, lack of suitable roost sites and the fragility of these small mammals makes similar interventions impossible. All that well-meaning environmentalists can do is monitor their numbers and raise indignant and often unheeded protests as the population continues to fall.
The fate of the Sousouris Banan throws into sharp relief Seychelles’ development goals. Raising arguments against economic development and increases in income is unfashionable to the point of foolishness, but this does not mean that financial gains should be pursued at the expense of an entire species. The replacement of native forests with houses, roads and introduced species, the spread of rats and cats, the arrival of the Barn Owl (Ibou) and the increasing use of agricultural pesticides are all likely to have played a part in the decline of the Sousouri Banan. Unlike Seychelles’ turtles, nobody has ever set out to hunt and kill Sousouri Banan. If – perhaps when – this species disappears it will be because of disinterest, neglect and short-sightedness and we will all be as culpable as the hunter who shot the last Dodo.