It may sound like a high-flying circus act, but the Prospect Park Zoo has a group of unusual mammals known as the flying foxes.
Rodrigues fruit bats are commonly known as flying foxes because of their size and their facial resemblance to a fox. At just under a pound and with a wing span of nearly 3 feet, they are among the largest species of bats and are native to Rodrigues Island, just beyond Madagascar off the coast of Africa. These critically endangered bats are vulnerable to habitat loss and their numbers in the wild are down to mere hundreds.
The Prospect Park Zoo is especially proud of the new flying fox family, which arrived at the zoo last year. On September 23, a baby bat was born and this weekend (11 a.m. and 3 p.m. ) keepers will help point out the baby clinging to its mother. The youngster is still nursing and mom keeps her wings wrapped around the baby for protection, but she often stretches those wings as the baby adjusts its position and visitors can get a good look. It will not be long before the baby starts venturing out along the branches on its own, looking for food.
It is easy to guess what these animals eat—it’s right in their name. Luscious figs, mangoes, and tamarinds are all favorite foods and are plentiful in the lowland forests of the Rodrigues Island. In the wild, they eat these fruits and help disburse seeds to other areas—making them a vital part of the ecosystem in which they live. As a result of this food preference, flying foxes possess a keen sense of smell and unlike smaller bats, do not use echolocation to find their meals.
Bats can fly so their body needs to be light and their wings need to be powerful. As mammals, bats don't have feathers on their wings but they do have a thin leathery membrane of skin connected to the long arm and finger bones (a bat's wing is shaped like a hand). This creates an aerodynamic shape that gives bats the ability to fly, glide and even hover.
The Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the Prospect Park Zoo, has been working to save wildlife and wild places in Africa since the 1950’s. In Madagascar, home to around 46 species of bats, WCS recently created a community-managed forest zone of nearly 700,000 acres in collaboration with local residents. This green belt buffers the protected forest area and serves as a model for sustainable resource use and conservation.
Halloween is a season where bats play a prominent role in spooky fun. So when you come to the Prospect Park Zoo’s Boo at the Zoo event on October 29 and 30, be sure to visit our not-so-scary fruit bats.