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By Enkosi Selane

Digital Journalist

On a wing and a prayer: Kruger Park under fire for bat house ‘evictions’

ReWild's Jane Burd questions the credibility of the experts the Kruger National Park claims to have consulted on the relocation of bats.

Wildlife rescue organisation ReWild has raised concerns about Kruger National Park’s ongoing attempt to remove bats from certain areas at the popular tourist attraction.

The park is currently moving bats away from guest accommodation, with reports of mesh wires being strung up against the thatch roof eaves to prevent them from roosting.

The relocation also includes the removal of “bat houses” used as roost sites by female bats.

Outcry over Kruger Park’s methods to remove bat colony

“Instead of doing a proper bat exclusion as recommended by every bat conservation organisation around the world, the Kruger National Park chose to do it in their own way,” the organisation said in a statement on Facebook.

ReWild also posted a photo of a free-tailed bat which died due to being trapped between mesh wire and a thatch roof.

“What they mostly likely did, was use the wire to block the bat’s entrance to the roof after dark… hoping the bats had all gone out hunting. This is how they trapped adult birds that would have flown away if it was done during the day,” it said.

Breeding season dilemma: Baby bats trapped

The organisation claimed that the “forced removal” is being carried out during the breeding season “at a time when baby bats would be unable to fly and would have been trapped in the roost”.

“Imagine how frantic and desperate a mother bat would be hearing her hungry baby calling her while it was starving to death and she couldn’t get back into the roof to save her baby.”

Danger of ‘decimating bat population’

The wildlife sanctuary claimed the park’s actions may “decimate the local bat population” and “set a dangerous precedent for removing unwanted species”.

“This is not the way to deal with a bat problem. Bats can be excluded from roofs humanely. No bats or birds should be harmed or killed in the process,” it said.

Offer of free assistance

According to ReWild, the organisation has approached Kruger Park on more than one occasion, offering its assistance to deal with the bat problem.

“We have been in communication with some of the senior management in the Kruger National Park over this matter and the removal of the bat houses from the camps. Their response has however been extremely disappointing,” it said.

“We have offered to train their maintenance staff free of charge on how to do proper bat exclusions, as well as oversee the work to ensure that it is done properly and humanely so that no bats are harmed.

“We have made the offer to them twice and both times they have declined,” the wildlife rescue organisation said.

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Kruger Park responds to bat backlash

Speaking to The Citizen, Kruger National Park manager of communications and marketing, Isaac Phaahla, said the park was relocating the animals for hygienic reasons, and in line with its conservation management plan.

Phaahla said while the park does not have an estimate of bats affected by the relocation in the park, there are measures in place to monitor and mitigate potential harm to the population.

He, however, did not specify the measures.

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Kruger Park claims bat relocation done by expert team

Phaahla said the relocation process was being carried out by an expert team using specialised equipment to ensure a safe and humane transfer of the bats to alternative locations within the park.

He claimed that the park engaged with bat experts and conservation organisations in its relocation efforts.

ReWild founding director, Jane Burd, questioned the credibility of the park’s expert team.

According to her, the park has withheld information about the experts whom it has allegedly consulted.

“We have asked for the names of the experts and the park has refused to give them to us,” Burd told The Citizen.

She questioned the Kruger Park’s measures of relocating the bats, calling it “inhumane”.

NSPCA inspection

The National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) said they inspected the bat relocation.

“The NSPCA has established that the Kruger National Park involved scientists and conservationists in this process. Upon our advice, the exclusion process was adapted by readjusting the mesh wire and attaching it to the eaves of the thatch roofs. 

“This prevents the bats and birds (which seem to be ignored/forgotten) from getting stuck in the mesh wire,” NSPCA public relations and legal liaison Jacques Peacock told The Citizen.