03 October 2009

Farewell, Tiny Friends

Christmas Island Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus murrayi), Critically Endangered

Sometimes, saying goodbye is hard. It's not hard to say goodbye to your friend, when you're leaving the coffee shop, because you know you'll see each other tomorrow. It's a different story though, when you're saying goodbye to your friend, because they're getting on a plane to Peru and you don't know if you'll ever see them again.

That's kind of how I feel right now about the Christmas Island Pipistrelle. This tiny bat, weighing about the same as three paperclips, has been saying farewell for the past 14 years. For more than a decade, the CI Pipistrelle has declined at least 10% percent every year. Now, in 2009, the total number of CI Pipistrelles likely stands at less than twenty.

Without a last minute miracle, this bat is headed straight for extinction. In fact, it may already be extinct. With the hope of starting a captive breeding program, eight scientists have spent an entire month in an unsuccessful last ditch effort to trap any surviving bats.

The reasons for the relatively rapid decline of this bat are unclear. Most scientists involved seem to believe that it's demise is linked to one of the numerous non-native species introduced to Christmas Island--the small Australian island which is the sole habitat of the CI Pipistrelle. Whether it was the Common Wolf Snake, the Black Rat, the Yellow Crazy Ant, or some other species that resulted in its decline, the point is now almost moot.

Although there is a small chance that scientists may succeed in trapping a few bats to start a breeding program, as long as the non-native species remain, the Christmas Island Pipistrelle will not be living happily on Christmas Island.

And so, to the CI Pipistrelle, I bid a very sad farewell. I hope this isn't goodbye forever.

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