For at least a million years, the tiny Christmas Island pipistrelle
had lived on the Australian territory whose name it bears. The micro-bat
, which weighed about 3 grams (lighter than a nickel), had long thrived on the island, feeding on insects and roosting in large groups in tree hollows and decaying vegetation.
But its numbers started to dwindle in the 1980s, and by 2006, the pipistrelle population had plunged to about 50. In the years that followed, this “decline continued at an alarming rate,” according to the IUCN. In 2009, only 20 remained.
The cause of the bats’ demise is not entirely clear, though several invasive, introduced species, including black rats and feral cats, have been pinpointed as possible culprits. The island’s crazy ants
could also have been part of the problem.
What is known, however, is that in 2009, scientists raised a red flag about the bats, warning
the Australian government that “without urgent intervention there is an extremely high risk that this species will go extinct in the near future.” They sought permission to capture the remaining bats for a captive breeding program.
Government officials hemmed and hawed
, initially rejecting the request. It took several months before the approval was granted.
Tragically, it was too little, too late. By the time the researchers returned to Christmas Island to search for the bats, they were only able to find a single animal.
On Aug. 27, 2009, that last remaining bat disappeared.
“Australian politics, and the bureaucracy that supports it, is failing in one of its most fundamental obligations to future generations: the conservation of our natural heritage,” wrote
Australian environmentalist Tim Flannery following the pipistrelles’ extinction. “Australians need to take a look at ourselves.”
The pipistrelle had been Christmas Island’s only bat — one that consumed its body weight in insects every night. Scientists say its extinction could disrupt the ecological balance of the island.