Project Pteropus


Lead Researcher: Sheema

Collaborators/Partners: Reuben (Sunway University), Sri (Kenyir For Life), Junn Kitt/Liew (Project Limestone), Mohd. Azlan Jayasilan (UNIMAS), Giam Xingli (University of Tennessee), Sara Bumrungsri (Prince of Songkla University), PERHILITAN, Tree Climbers Malaysia, Cintai Tioman (Reef Check)Lindsay Gasik (Year of the Durian), Anak Rimba Books

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Pteropus vampyrus in Terengganu_copyright Sanjitpaal Singh_jitspicsdotcom
Pteropus vampyrus in Terengganu

Our work on flying fox conservation started in 2011, and led to the official creation of Project Pteropus in 2013. Project Pteropus is Malaysia’s only project focused on the conservation ecology of flying foxes (Pteropus spp.) and other Old World fruit bats (Pteropodidae). Peninsular Malaysia’s two flying fox species (Pteropus hypomelanusP. vampyrus) are locally Endangered due to hunting and habitat loss, yet still classified as low conservation priorities on the IUCN Red List. The disproportionate research/media focus on how bats are linked to zoonotic disease and public health issues, without parallel efforts to understand their important roles and benefits to humans, has created negative perceptions of these bats whilst ignoring their ecological importance and conservation needs.

This underscores the need for localised conservation action to address country-specific flying fox declines, and Project Pteropus was established specifically to address these gaps in research and conservation. Understanding fruit bat ecosystem services and conflict situations with humans is a crucial step towards developing effective conservation solutions – but while extensive research has already been conducted on the smaller pteropodids, ecological information on the flying foxes is still very much lacking in comparison.

As such, in Phase 1 of Project Pteropus (2013-2016) we developed the first, pioneering study investigating bat pollination of durian (Durio zibethinus) in Malaysia, leading to the world’s first scientific confirmation of flying foxes functioning as durian pollinators. We also investigated situations of potential conflict and coexistence between flying foxes and humans, and provided the first preliminary dietary information for Pteropus hypomelanus.

Island Flying Fox (Pteropus hypomelanus) on Tioman Island, Malaysia_COPYRIGHT SHEEMA AZIZ
Pteropus hypomelanus on Tioman Island, Pahang

Such information on the importance of fruit bats can be a game-changer for flying fox conservation. This is why our long-term conservation approach is to investigate, understand, document, and highlight fruit bat ecosystem services such as durian pollination and island eco-tourism. We also seek to understand and address conflict between fruit bats and humans, and as such our project implements a two-pronged strategy to promote conservation of fruit bats and their habitats. Flying foxes serve as our flagship and umbrella species – an approach that helps benefit other fruit bats as well.

Our new phase of research and conservation work covers all pteropodid bat pollinators of durian. Phase 2 of Project Pteropus (2018-2020) was a crossover with Project Limestone, as our project scope includes the cave nectar bat (Eonycteris spelaea)rousettes (Rousettus spp.), and long-tongued nectar bats (Macroglossus spp.). Therefore, while smaller bats are significantly less threatened than flying foxes, fruit bat conservation will also benefit other cave-roosting bats and their karst habitats, and also conservation efforts for mangrove habitats. Our approach is to engage fruit growers and island residents constructively as equal partners to explore collaborative solutions throughout Peninsular Malaysia.

Eonycteris spelaea_Perlis_Sanjitpaal Singh
Eonycteris spelaea from Gua Kelam, Perlis

Our specific objectives:

(1) Assess and monitor flying fox (Pteropus spp.) populations across Peninsular Malaysia, and help protect and manage their critical habitat/refugia.

(2) Work through partnerships with key durian growers and other relevant stakeholders in Peninsular Malaysia to conduct research on, promote, and achieve an economic valuation of the critical pollination services provided by fruit bats (all relevant Pteropodidae species) to the durian industry.

(3) Improve the standard of information available to facilitate fruit bat conservation, and support outreach efforts targeted at raising awareness and promoting positive attitudes towards fruit bats, including mainstreaming bats in the public consciousness and eco-tourism sector through partnerships with other organisations.

We were also involved in a SEABCRU regional project funded by USFWS to address hunting of flying foxes (2018-2019).

We do not conduct research on disease ecology e.g. virology, zoonoses, or ectoparasites, and as such we do not conduct any virus or ectoparasite sampling work.

Read our FAQ on bats and COVID-19

Project Pteropus Logo_2020

Current project donor:


Past project donors:

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