Russia’s bat population, which boasts some 30 species, has been hard hit by the wildfires that swept across the country this summer, and many species may suffer the long-term loss of their habitats, the United Nations warned today.
Recent satellite images suggest that more than 1 million hectares of forests have been destroyed in western Russia, one of the most important breeding and foraging areas for the country’s bat species, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a news release.
The fires, which have killed at least 50 people, have also harmed about 40,000 hectares of protected forest areas, according to national authorities.
“Our thoughts are with the Russian people who are suffering during this crisis,” said Andreas Streit, Executive Secretary of EUROBATS, a UNEP-administered body that promotes bat conservation throughout Europe. “Many people have lost their homes and even entire villages have disappeared.
“The disappearance of forest habitats adds an extra dimension to the catastrophe,” he added. “Forest ecosystems are vital for our planet and for many local communities whose lives are intertwined with forests and nature.”
The fires could have devastating consequences for populations of migratory bats, who will suffer long-term losses of habitats and foraging areas, as well as a decrease of available prey such as insects, UNEP noted.
The future for Russia’s bats looks “worrying,” according to the agency, which added that while scientific research, monitoring and bat conservation projects are taking place in the country, additional actions to safeguard its bat populations are needed.
Russia is not yet a party to the Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats, known as EUROBATS or the Bat Agreement, which came into force in 1994 and currently has 30 European States among its parties.
The Agreement, set up under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, aims to protect all 45 species of bats identified in Europe, through legislation, education, conservation measures and global cooperation with both parties and those who have not yet joined.
To promote bat conservation, research and awareness-raising about the ecological importance of bats, EUROBATS and the Convention have designated 2011 as the Year of the Bat.
The Year also coincides with the UN International Year of Forests, which aims to raise global awareness of the urgent need to protect the planet’s fragile forests, vital ecosystems that are home to many vulnerable and endangered species.