Many of the protected areas in Africa were created for the protection of large ungulate species, or were set aside as they were not suitable for agriculture or human settlement due to the presence of disease vectors (e.g. African sleeping sickness). Nevertheless, various other species have been conserved through the creation of these protected areas. To date, the focus in the management of these areas continues to promote the existence of charismatic large mammal species, which continue to draw much tourist revenue. The protected area network in Africa is also made up of formal and informal protected areas. The effectiveness of conservation management in informal protected areas has been questioned, and certain maps of the protected areas are out of date, as some of the informal and formal protected areas have been lost due to land use change from natural to agriculture, or developed for human settlements.
Bats being flying species implies that many of their life histories traits (roost and feeding sites) may not be fully contained within protected areas. In some instances a protected area may only be used as a foraging site, especially in small urban protected areas. Very little, however, is known about which bat species occur within Africa’s protected areas, and how their diverse life histories are played out in relation to these areas. Many bat species may already be conserved within the present protected area network, and there would therefore be little need for concern regarding possible extinction risks to these species. Much of the current bat research has, however, been undertaken on bat populations outside the various protected areas, where in some cases the populations have been found to be declining. These population declines remain to be assessed in the context of relationships to populations in protected areas that may be potential source populations within the landscape.
Management for large ungulates may not directly affect bat species, but certain economic pressures and increases in tourist development in protected areas may have increased, undesirable impacts on existing bat populations. For instance, opening cave sites to tourists without consideration of potential impacts, and development of new accommodation in, or, near important bat feeding areas. The addition of new buildings / man-made structures in fairly transformed areas, if not constructed to exclude bats could create additional roost space for some bat species that may then compete with other bat species that were present in the area but do not roost in man-made structures. With knowledge and understanding comes the ability to plan, manage and mitigate many of the potential harmful activities that may occur if information is not taken into consideration. With minor adjustments to management within specific protected areas, all bat species can be better conserved.
Under this program AfricanBats NPC will focus on understanding bats in protected areas, documenting the species and their life history traits within these areas. This will also identify species that are not currently fully represented within the present protected area network, and might require specific conservation measures outside the protected areas. For instance a species may have critical life history traits (e.g. a cave roost) which are outside the protected area that should be included within the protected area network, so that its habitat or life history trait is sufficiently conserved.