Forest & Bird says rare native bats desperately need better protection in Hamilton, before they disappear from the region.
New developments are wiping out bat habitats and Waikato Regional Council and Hamilton City Council urgently need a long term strategy to make sure long-tailed bats are not lost, says Forest & Bird central North Island regional manager Rebecca Stirnemann.
“Long-tailed bats are critically affected by development that squeezes them out - and they are on the brink of extinction in Hamilton,” Dr Stirnemann says.
“The councils have been too slow to act and they need to make bat protection a higher priority.”
Authorities have known bats are living in Hamilton for about 15 years, but there is still no strategic plan to protect their habitats and flying routes, she says.
“We can see they are no longer using half the city, because new development has cut off their access routes.
“Hamilton City Council needs to look at the cumulative effects on bats of all the new developments - all the housing subdivisions, the industrial expansion and the road projects.”
Long-tailed bats have the highest threat ranking of ‘nationally critical’ and are in decline across the country, because of habitat loss.
Hamilton is one of the only cities in New Zealand where long-tailed bats survive.
Bats need mature trees with cavities to roost and nest in, and natural spaces, such as deep gullies and waterways, where the insects they eat can flourish. The dark-loving creatures need areas without too much artificial light and without high noise levels, because they navigate using echo-location.
Cats, possums, stoats and rats prey on bats, reducing their numbers faster than they can breed, as females usually only raise one offspring a year.
“Bats are New Zealand’s only native land-based mammals.
“These little brown creatures weigh about 10 grams, but they can fly at 60 kilometres an hour and have huge home ranges, of up to 100 square kilometres.
“The unique characteristics of bats make them harder to protect – and that makes it more important that every agency and council is doing its bit to look after them,” Dr Stirnemann says.
Forest & Bird has been granted $5000 from the Len Reynolds Trust for research on long-tailed bats in the Waikato.
This research will focus on the best ways to improve the chances of bats surviving in the face of development.
Hamilton residents can help bats survive by keeping native forest and mature trees on their properties, by carrying out pest control, by reducing pesticide use so bats have plenty of insects to eat, and by reducing light pollution from lighting outside their homes, Dr Stirnemann says.
A photo of a long-tailed bat can be found in this Dropbox. Photo credit Laura Keown.