Joining Conservation Research and Monitoring of Bats in Malta
Kinga Czutor & Reka Rehak
BICREF ngo volunteers – Summer 2018
Coming from Hungary right in the centre of Europe, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to undertake a summer internship as volunteers with the ngo BICREF (Biological Conservation Research Foundation) on the islands of Malta in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea.
As environmental engineers we strive to take care of nature, but there are many living organisms which are risking of disappearing and people may not be aware of this. That is where conservation biology research and awareness contributes effectively. Without the biological knowledge of the species and habitats, it would be really hard to manage and safeguard biodiversity and species survival in the long-term. Everyone can talk about conservation but few have the skill to achieve this difficult task.
Fortunately, the Maltese Islands still have some interesting marine and terrestrial species, including diverse nocturnal life. Ongoing research and awareness projects on both are being undertaken on these islands by BICREF ngo.
We took active part in both marine and terrestrial monitoring projects. We discovered and appreciated the natural value of many beautiful beaches, bays, and countryside settings, in a way that went far beyond that of a tourist.
Among the terrestrial work, it was unique to get to know about long-term scientific research and monitoring work on Maltese bats and their conservation needs led by the University of Malta’s Conservation Biology Research Group (CBRG-UM). BICREF collaborates with this expert and experienced research group which amongs other projects focuses on studying bats’ presence and their importance in the countryside, agricultural and urban environments. It was very surprising for us, as we did not know much about these nocturnal creatures. We thought that they are blind or that they drink blood, but soon we realized that these are only tales and that on the contrary they are really intelligent mammals that serve a very useful purpose, such as keeping insect pests under control!
The bat scientist, Clare Mifsud, MSc. and PhD student researcher involved in bat research and her research supervisor, the conservation biologist, Adriana Vella, PhD (Cambridge), contributed their expertise developed through the many years of bat research and mentoring. Infact, these bat researchers have produced various original scientific works and peer reviewed publications that reflect this rigorous work on Maltese bat species. This include the formulation of an accurate and efficient method to study all bat species found in Malta without much disturbance to these protected species by recordings of their unique ultrasound signals. Additional published work has demonstrated how this specifically developed method is used to understand relationships of bat species to surrounding environmental conditions. Their discoveries are essential to consider effective conservation measures for these legally protected species.
While assisting BICREF and the CBRG-UM we learnt how to carefully and respectfully observe and monitor the incredible and diverse bats species, from the smallest bat which is the size of a thumb when not in flight, the common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), to the largest species having an open wing-span of more than 30 cm, the Maghrebian mouse-eared bat (Myotis punicus).
Taking part in numerous fieldwork surveys around the Maltese islands was as much emotional as educational an experience. During the internship we realized that being a conservation scientist is not as easy as we might have thought, as scientists active in this field would spend long hours of fieldwork, followed by further hours of work during the day to analyse the data collected in order to reveal the secret lives and needs of the species studied.
These scientists not only improve essential scientific information on these local species but also alert the local authorities when urgent action needs to be taken, such as reporting locations of bat roosts where human development or works may destroy their homes or close their exits causing their death.
We have discovered that wildlife conservation work strongly depends on the scientific knowledge being gathered in such dedicated manner and Malta is lucky, to have such conservation biologists and environmental ngo, especially since it is very densely populated and nature is clearly under great pressure. The efforts by the CBRG-UM and BICREF will pave the way for effective actions to conserve the irreplaceable biodiversity of the Maltese Islands.
Interested persons should contact: Dr. Adriana Vella, at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on internships or voluntary work linked to conservation work.