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A Participatory Conservation Programme for the Comoro Islands

Fruit bat in flightBristol Zoo Gardens has been engaged in conservation measures for Livingstone’s fruit bats since 1998, and is one of three institutions supporting a captive breeding programme for the species. In 1990 Livingstone’s fruit bat was thought to be on the brink of extinction, with an estimate of only 200 individuals left; Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (then the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust) were pioneers in expeditions to the Comoros to capture bats for breeding in captivity at Jersey Zoo (and subsequently at Bristol Zoo Gardens). Since these first trips, more roost sites for these forest-dwelling bats have been found, bringing the population estimate up to around 1,200 bats. However the species is still gravely threatened by the loss of its forest habitat and is classed as Endangered on the IUCN’s red list.

Click here for detailed information on Livingstone's fruit bats.

Deforestation in the Comoros continues principally to clear land for farming and to provide timber for construction. Most rural Comorians depend on agriculture, and with land shortages increasing as the population grows (on average, a Comorian woman has 5 children in her lifetime), many people are forced to go higher up into the mountains to grow their crops. Once these areas are cleared of natural vegetation for fields, they can quickly lose their fertility when heavy rains wash the soil down the slopes. Year on year the land produces less food, and so farmers have to clear yet more land higher up the slopes to produce enough to feed their families.

Women carrying firewoodIn 2005, Hugh Doulton, now BCSF’s Comoros Project Coordinator, led an Oxford University research project to the islands, undertaking ecological surveys and investigating the causes and consequences of deforestation. The project worked in partnership with the Comorian Government, the University of the Comoros, and local NGOs. This study showed that any conservation initiative needed to address the social problems faced by rural Comorians if it were to be successful in the long term. At the time, plans for the development of Bristol Zoo Garden’s sister organisation, Bristol Conservation & Science Foundation, were just being developed. BCSF’s ethos is based on community-based approaches to conservation, which tied in with the findings of the Oxford University project. Through 2006 and 2007, Hugh worked with Neil Maddison, Head of BCSF, and academics from the Universities of Oxford and East Anglia to develop a project which would address the causes of deforestation and biodiversity loss in the islands.

In October 2007, Hugh joined BCSF as Comoros Project Coordinator and a pilot phase was launched in one village on Anjouan, the island which has the largest population of Livingstone’s fruit bats, and which suffers from the heaviest pressure on the remaining forest. Project activities focused on improving livelihoods and agricultural productivity, helping communities to collectively manage natural resources, such as water; and monitoring biodiversity patterns across all three islands to help prioritise areas for biodiversity conservation efforts. In March 2009, in partnership with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, BCSF was awarded a three-year grant of £241,000 from the UK government’s Darwin Initiative to expand the community activities to a total of ten villages in the southern half of Anjouan. A year later, funding of 750,000 Euros for the period to the end of 2012, was awarded by the French Development Agency (FDA).

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