A Bristol Zoo led project to help save endangered fruit bats from extinction has been awarded over £670,000 to expand its vital work in the Comoros Islands.
The Comoros is composed of three main islands lying between Madagascar and Mozambique in the Western Indian Ocean. The Islands are home to a number of threatened animals and plants, found nowhere else in the world.
Two animal species which are particularly in danger from extinction on the islands are the endangered Livingstone's fruit bat and the critically endangered Anjouan scops owl, which are both under threat due to the destruction of their forest habitat.
Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF) – a part of Bristol Zoo Gardens – has been working to protect the forests on the islands of Anjouan and Mohéli since 2007, in partnership with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the University of East Anglia, and the IUCN.
Now BCSF has signed a contract with the French Development Agency (FDA) to further its work on the islands.
The funding will safeguard the project for a further three years. It means the project team in the Comoros can continue their work with local communities, developing new ways of protecting the nearby forests and farming the land without encroaching on the forests.
It will also allow the team to expand their work with the local community from four to 12 villages, finding new sources of income for villagers, such as setting up allotments which allow them to grow and sell vegetables, reducing their reliance on the forests.
Neil Maddison, Head of Conservation Programmes for BCSF, based at Bristol Zoo, explains: “Our ultimate aim is to help the people of Anjouan and Mohéli to protect the native animals and plants which are found only on these islands. This means we need to help villagers find new ways of earning a living which does not involve cutting down the forests.”
The Comoros Islands are one of the least prepared countries in the world to deal with the impacts of climate change due to its social, economic and natural resource situation.
Of the three Comoros islands, Anjouan is the poorest, most densely populated, and most ecologically fragile. Little native forest remains and deforestation continues apace, threatening endemic biodiversity and posing grave problems for the local population.
Hugh Doulton, BCSF’s project coordinator for the Comoros project, said: “I am delighted that the project has received this funding. It will allow us to build on our success with Comorian communities which will, in turn, safeguard the island’s endemic biodiversity, which includes species on the brink of extinction, such as Livingstone's fruit bats and Anjouan scops owls.”
The mayor of the region, Abdoul Majid, said: “This project has shown us that we can take control of our futures by thinking about the problems we face, in order to find sustainable innovations which improve our livelihoods today, and conserve our natural resources for the future: Komori ya Leo na Meso [Comoros for today and tomorrow].”
He added: “This project is supporting us to improve the fertility in our fields and increase crop yields. We’re also starting to generate income from organic market vegetable gardening, and the first poultry farm in the Comoros based on locally-produced feed. Generations to come will benefit from the work we are doing to protect our water sources and water catchment zones“.
The award from the French Development Agency follows a previous grant of £240,000 from the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative; with co-financing from other sources, including Airbus UK, which takes the total for the initial three-year project to over £1.2 million.