Now the wildfires have been tamed in Russia’s vast hinterland and for the first time in weeks the thermometer in Moscow has dropped down to a comfortable cooler 23C, experts are beginning to realise quite how devastating this Summer has been for Russia’s wildlife. Among the victims hardest hit are Russia’s 30 species of bats.
The United Nations Environment Program conservation project EUROBATS has discovered that 40,000 of the million hectares of forests destroyed in the fires were important breeding grounds for many of Russia’s thirty different species of bats.
Stating that the main focus was on people and offering condolences for the 50 human lives lost in the recent catastrophe, the Executive Secretary of EUROBATS, Andreas Streit, declared that “the disappearance of forest habitats adds an extra dimension to the catastrophe” because “forest systems are vital for our planet and for many local communities whose lives are intertwined with forests and nature”.
EUROBATS describes the situation regarding Russia’s bat population as “worrying” for two reasons: vast swathes of the habitats of migratory bats have been destroyed, while at the same time the insects on which they feed have disappeared. Therefore, according to the UNEP-sponsored program, the effects of the fires on the populations of migratory bats could have “devastating and long-term consequences”.
EUROBATS reveals that Russia, home to 30 of Europe’s 45 species of bats, is not yet a signatory party to the 1994 Bat Agreement, which sets up protocols for their conservation, and warns that while monitoring and conservation projects are on-going in Russia, much more needs to be done.
2011 has been designated as the Year of the Bat and the UN International Year of Forests. The Bat Agreement was set up as part of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, aiming to implement protection programs for the continent’s 45 species of bats together with legislation, conservation and cooperation schemes among the parties to the Convention and other states which have not yet signed.