Image: Pemba flying fox
E. Bowen-Jones  /  Fauna & Flora International
The Pemba flying fox has a wingspan that can reach 5 and 1/2 feet.
msnbc.com
updated 10/31/2008 12:00:33 PM ET 2008-10-31T16:00:33

A fruit bat with a wingspan of more than five feet has made a spectacular return from the brink of extinction, a conservation group said Friday.

The Pemba flying fox, a native of Pemba island off Tanzania in Africa, was reduced to just a few specimens as recently as 1989 and listed as critically endangered, said Fauna & Flora International.

"Less than twenty years ago this bat looked set to disappear off the face of the planet forever," said Joy Juma of FFI's East Africa Program. "At one time roast bat was a very common dish on Pemba. Now people value the bats for different reasons."

Pemba flying foxes were hunted and eaten widely throughout the island. By the 1990s, 95 percent of the bat's forest habitat was destroyed, FFI said.

Recovery efforts included creating two new forest reserves and reducing hunting by raising local awareness of the need for conservation and the possibility of ecotourism around the bat.

The new survey shows the bat's numbers have "soared" to at least 22,000 individuals and possibly as many as 35,600.

"Today, Pemba flying foxes are much loved by islanders," FFI stated, "with local people helping to protect the bat through community-led 'Pemba flying fox clubs'."

The species is no longer listed as critically endangered and has been downgraded to "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List for threatened species.

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