Russian forest fires pose major threat to bats
Bonn (Germany), 18 August 2010 - The catastrophic wildfires that have swept across Russia this summer have killed at least 50 people and could cost the country's economy an estimated US$15 billion. But among the hidden victims of the fires are small, nocturnal animals that are fast losing their habitats. Russia's bat population - which boasts some 30 species - has been hit especially hard by the flames.
The areas worst affected by the wildfires are concentrated in western Russia, one of the most important breeding and foraging areas for the country's bat species.
Although no official assessments have been carried out, recent satellite images show that more than one million hectares of forests have been destroyed in western Russia. According to the country's Ministry of Nature Resources, the fires have already harmed about 40,000 hectares of protected forest areas.
Species such as the Noctule, Leisler's or Nathusius' pipistrelle bats roost over summer in tree hollows and will experience a dramatic loss of habitat long after the wildfires have been contained.
"Our thoughts are with the Russian people who are suffering during this crisis," says Andreas Streit, Executive Secretary of EUROBATS, a UNEP-administered body that promotes bat conservation throughout Europe. "Many people have lost their homes and even entire villages have disappeared. The disappearance of forest habitats adds an extra dimension to the catastrophe. Forest ecosystems are vital for our planet and for many local communities whose lives are intertwined with forests and nature."
Although the damaged areas account for only a small part of the vast forest surface in Russia, the fires could have devastating consequences for populations of migratory bats. While birds will be mainly affected by air pollution and smoke inhalation, bats will suffer long-term losses of habitats and foraging areas, as well as a decrease of available prey such as insects.