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Conserving African bats

Angelena Efstathiou, Research Manager at African Bat Conservation (ABC), is part of a small but passionate team focused on researching, protecting, and conserving bats in Malawi…

ABC was set up in 2011 by Dr Emma Stone, co-Lead at UWE Bat Lab. With a focus on applied research, outreach and education, capacity building, and conservation, the ABC team collects valuable data to advise stakeholders, inform land-use regimes and developments, and influence policy and conservation practices for bats in Malawi.

Research over the years has proven that in addition to performing key ecological roles such as pollination, seed dispersal, and predation, bats are important indicators of environmental change and habitat disturbance.

ABC Team. Credit: ABC

Africa is home to over 20% of the world’s bat species and over 220 species in nine families have been recorded from sub-Saharan Africa (Mondajemet al, 2007). Bats are often overlooked for charismatic megafauna and therefore receive limited research interest and bats are almost ignored in habitat management plans.

African bats face increasing threats from habitat destruction, persecution and hunting for bushmeat. In Africa particularly, the ecology and status of most bat species is unknown due to limited research, which in turn restricts our understanding of environmental change. Malawi has been identified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a place of key importance to bat conservation due to high endemism and species diversity. Located between Eastern and Southern Africa, Malawi is classified as a World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) Global 2000 Ecoregion.

Despite its rich biodiversity, pressures such as changing agricultural practices, deforestation, development and several other interconnected factors have caused Malawi to be highlighted as an area of concern for bat populations. The central and eastern Miombo Woodlands, Zambezi flooded Savannas and Southern Rift Montane woodlands host in excess of 64 species of bats (approximately 30% of the country’s mammals), including some that are restricted to single mountains.


Read more: The impact of humane roost exclusion on white bellied free tailed bats


Little epauletted fruit bat, Malawi. Credit: ABC

Since its establishment, ABC has been conducting long term monitoring of various habitats around Malawi through our Biodiversity Monitoring Project, which aims to assess long term trends in bat species diversity and abundance across seasons and habitats using standardised bat trapping and acoustic surveys, as well as vegetation plots. In 2015 ABC began to focus on urban bat ecology and conservation through Urban Wildlife Project ( initiated by our parent Charity, Conservation Research Africa (CRA)) which aims to mitigate and understand human-wildlife conflict in the capital city of Lilongwe.

From our Conservation Research Centre in Lilongwe, the ABC Team operate a free Wildlife Assistance Helpline and conduct roost visits at properties experiencing human-bat conflict (HBC), and conduct long term monitoring of roosts as part of our Roost Monitoring Programme. We also research, through mist netting, harp trapping and radiotracking to understand the roosting and foraging ecology of bats in the urban environment to inform conservation management and conflict mitigation.

In addition to our Urban Mops project on the White Bellied Free Tailed bat (Mops niveinenter) since 2013 the ABC Team has been investigating the roosting and foraging ecology of the migratory Straw coloured fruit bat (Eidolon helvum) population in Lilongwe. ABC recently managed to get this species protected by Law in Malawi under the revised Wildlife Act of Malawi (2018). Despite legal protection E. helvum are listed as Near Threatened and in significant decline (IUCN, 2008). Very little information is known about the ecological requirements of these bats in Lilongwe, which experience significant persecution in their urban roost.

Straw coloured fruit bats in flight, Malawi. Credit: ABC

Working closely with the Lilongwe City Council, we ensure that our research informs, sustainable conservation management practices and urban planning in Lilongwe. Our data and biodiversity mapping are used to inform planning and create the first Lilongwe Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan for the city. Our outreach and education efforts are carefully constructed to promote human–wildlife coexistence.

We recently established a new research base at Kuti Wildllife Reserve in Salima near Lake Malawi to concentrate our efforts on alleviating the significant levels of HBC in properties and communities in the area. Our Bat Guano Guardian project aims to train local Malawians in the safe and sustainable harvesting of bat guano for sale as organic sustainable fertiliser for agricultural use. Working with Bat Guardians we are creating a market for a sustainable economy around bat guano which will provide alternative income for communities whilst promoting bat roost and colony protection.

Collecting guano from roost to use as fertiliser. Credit: ABC

We are a small team with a small budget and need all the help we can get. There are many ways you can help us with our work, from volunteering in Malawi, or remotely conducting your student research project with us, donating to ABC’s work or fundraising to raise some vital funds for our work.

For more information about African Bat Conservation and our work, or to enquire about volunteering with us, please visit our website, or contact us at info@africanbatconservation.org or angelena@africanbatconservation.org.

About the Author: Angelena Efstathiou joined ABC as Research Manager in November 2019. She manages the ABC applied conservation research projects and ensures the delivery of the research outcomes across different projects and programmes. In addition to line managing and training the ABC staff, Angelena supports and supervises UWE Bat Lab students (both masters and bachelors) and oversees the volunteer mentorship.

Angelena studied at Nottingham Trent University for her MRes Endangered Species Recovery and Conservation. For my MRes project she worked alongside African Bat Conservation, being supervised by Dr Emma Stone, studying the effects of humane roost exclusions on the White Bellied Free Tailed bat to monitor their movements before and after the humane roost exclusion process using radio tracking. She was awarded the Bat Conservation International student research grant to conduct the research on roost exclusions in Lilongwe to help inform conflict mitigation.

Header image: ABC.