Dedicating Fiji’s First Bat Sanctuary

Dedicating Fiji’s First Bat Sanctuary

The Tui Macuata, Ratu Wiliame Katonivere with representatives of NFMV, BCI, the National Trust of Fiji, Rainforest Trust, and BirdLife International, and our Fiji Free-tailed Bat mascot.

NatureFiji-MareqetiViti (NFMV) and the Fiji Bat Conservation Initiative are proud to announce the accomplishment of a significant goal: the establishment of the Nakanacagi Bat Sanctuary, the first for Fiji! This sanctuary secures a cave housing the world’s only known maternity roost of the endangered Fiji Free-tailed Bat.

On 16 July, a dedication ceremony was held in Nakanacagi village near Dreketi, Macuata, on Vanua Levu, to celebrate the purchase of the cave by the National Trust of Fiji, which will maintain it as a sanctuary. Paramount Chief, the Tui Macuata, Ratu Wiliame Katonivere was the Chief Guest. The celebration marked the culmination of a four-year initiative to purchase the cave from the Matasawalevu Cooperative. The new sanctuary, comprising 21 acres of land, protects the Fiji Free-tailed Bat from habitat disturbance in and around the cave to ensure the future survival of the species and this vital breeding and roosting site.

The mouth of the cave at the Nakanacagi Bat Sanctuary
The Tui Macuata, Ratu Wiliame Katonivere holding life-size model of the endangered Fiji Free-tailed Bat, made from 100% recycled fabric.

The Fiji Free-tailed Bat­­ (Chaerephon bregullae), which feeds on insects and grows to a mere six cm, has only been found in Fiji and Vanuatu. However, the cave in the Nakanacagi Bat Sanctuary is the only known roost for this bat in Fiji and the bat’s only known maternity colony worldwide. This bat population has declined over the past decades due to human consumption as well as deforestation to the area surrounding the cave. Heavy logging trucks using a road directly above the cave have further threatened its existence.

NFMV is but one organization that was instrumental in instigating this effort­­—it could only be accomplished through the extensive collaboration of a number of partners: the National Trust of Fiji, the University of the South Pacific (USP), BirdLife International, Macuata Provincial Office, Office of the Commissioner Northern, and the University of South Australia, with support from the Australian Tropical Research Foundation, the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund, Bat Conservation International (BCI), Rainforest Trust, and the Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund. The project was guided by the collaborative efforts of the members of the Fiji Bat Conservation Initiative.

Tui Macuata Ratu Wiliame Katonivere chatting with other ceremony speakers (left to right): Kevin Pierson of BCI, Wren McLean of Rainforest Trust Australia, and Craig Powell, Chair of the National Trust of Fiji.

In addition, the people of Nakanacagi village have been critical to this initiative. Following discussions with conservation practitioners in 2012, the villagers made the decision to stop all traditional harvesting of the bats. They continue to provide researchers with valuable information about the bats and the cave, especially given their historic knowledge of the site.

While the dedication of the Nakanacagi Bat Sanctuary is a major achievement, this overall effort now moves into a new phase. With Botanic Gardens Conservation International, work has already begun for the restoration of the vegetation around the sanctuary by NFMV, the National Trust of Fiji, the Ministry of Forests, the Pacific Community (SPC) and USP. Within one year, the sanctuary will be formally delineated in accordance with the Fiji Forestry Department’s Reserve Demarcation Policy, boundary signs will be placed on trees and posts to clearly mark the reserve, and the logging road will be closed.

Over the next four years, through funding from the Rainforest Trust and BCI, the National Trust of Fiji and NFMV will work with the Macuata Provincial Office, the Ministry of Forests, and SPC to run education awareness programs with the surrounding schools. They will also train representatives from Nakanacagi village and Matasawalevu Cooperative to become rangers or wardens of the Sanctuary, thereby ensuring effective conservation and management of the Nakanacagi Bat Sanctuary to further safeguard the existence of the Fiji Free-tailed Bat.

Jone Niukala of the National Trust of Fiji helps to educate primary students about the endangered bat at the dedication
NFMV member and artist Anne O’Brien leads a group of primary students in making bat masks at the dedication