Tag Archives: Seychelles Sheath-tailed Bat

Photographing the elusive Syer

Well hello Mr. Owl

Well hello Owl

One of the things I like about working in conservation is taking pictures of wildlife. As challenging as it can be, it is an absolute delight to see the results when a good picture is taken. In Seychelles and on Cousin Island Special Reserve especially there are great opportunities for taking bird pictures. The birds make it easy on the Reserve because they are so unafraid of people and do not move away when approached. Cousin is predator free, so the birds have hardly anything to fear. We have in our database now hundreds of pictures taken by staff, volunteers and visitors. We have shared some of them and I love it when I get a good reaction to a picture.

But although its relatively easy to get pictures of the bird life, sometimes its near impossible to get pictures of some birds. The Seychelles Scops Owl (Syer, Otus insularis) comes to mind. This is a nocturnal bird restricted to forests at mid and high altitudes of Mahe, the main island of Seychelles. The population is fewer than 360 birds so it is still on the endangered list. It is a rarely seen bird and in fact it was not until 1999 that a nest was found. But a few people know its whereabouts and can help in locating it. Camille Hoareau is one of these people.

Last year we had French photographers Herve Chelle and Jean Phillipe Vantighem helping us add to our photographic database. JP and Herve work for the NGO Le Sternes, which provides photography expertise to protected areas on a voluntary basis. During their time on Mahe we asked them to help us get pictures of the Scops owl and the Seychelles sheath-tailed bat another elusive species. We called on Camille who lives up in the hills for his help. Using the Scops Owl call,  a double frog-like croak that resembles a saw – thus its Creole name meaning sawyer, Camille was able to attract a pair for Herve to take pictures of at dusk (see above). In between, we stood there awed for over an hour just watching them, feeling lucky.

Bat monitoring update


If looking at this picture you think that Terence is moonlighting at another job, possibly at a lab, then you are forgiven. In fact this is our office and Terence is looking at slides of insects retrieved from recently laid insect traps around the roosts occupied by the endangered Seychelles sheath-tailed bat. The traps were set up to collect insects within foraging and non foraging areas of the bat in order to help us study  insect density and diversity.


Terence is counting and grouping insects into families. The study is part of Nature Seychelles’ monitoring of the remaining roosts – with 32 individuals – of the Seychelles sheath-tailed bat on Mahe.  Apart from keeping a tally of the numbers at the roosts on Mahe, Nature Seychelles’ is keen to uncover information about food abundance. The bat is insectivorous and a past project  had identified food shortages as a possible reason for the decline in numbers. Although the study doesn’t pin point exactly what the bat eats, it helps to show what is present around the roosts.


The malaise traps were laid in the beach and woodland areas but with similar vegetation. Ian, setting up the trap here, is one of the Nature Seychelles team working on the project. We will be sharing more information on the progress of study.

Seychelles Sheath-tailed Bat monitoring at Baie Lazare

On July 15, 2009 I accompanied Terence for a monitoring exercise for the Seychelles Sheath-tailed bat Coleura seychellensis carried out by Nature Seychelles at Baie Lazare, Mahe.

Baie Lazare has one of three roosts on Mahe occupied by the endemic and very rare Seychelles Sheath-tailed Bat. So rare is the bat and so limited its range that it has been listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and is considered close to extinction. The bat is also listed by EDGE (the edge of existence programme), the global conservation initiative which focuses on threatened and unique species.


The Seychelles Sheath-tailed bat was once abundant on Praslin, La Digue, Mahé and Silhouette. It suffered a dramatic decline during the mid-late 20th Century. The exact cause of the population decline is unknown, but it’s been linked to habitat destruction, human disturbance, decline in insect density, and possible predation by barn owls. Recent studies failed to detect any bats at previously known roosting sites on the islands of La Digue and Praslin, and the species is now thought to be extinct on both islands. This bat is now only known to roost on Mahe and Silhouette, with an estimated 50-100 individuals believed to exist. Past records show 32 individuals at La Passe on Silhouette, and 36 individuals at three roosts on Mahé: Cap Ternay, Baie Lazare, and Anse Major.

The monitoring is being done with the help of two volunteers and on this day we were accompanied by Ian Valmont.  Ian and the others have been recording dusk emergence of individuals at the roosts on Mahe. We sit outside the roost where we can see bats emerge. Ian and Terence are carrying ultrasonic detectors (Bat box) set to 37 kHz to detect when a bat is approaching. However, the counts are based on actual visuals of the bats. At this roost, 7 individuals have been recorded and all were seen on this day. Other observations on  the bats behavior and the status of the habitat are also recorded.

The bats are difficult to photograph at emergence as they fly past rather fast. My amateur skills produced very poor quality video from our digital camera. I am hoping that at the next monitoring I will be more successful. However we did manage to record some audio files on Terence’s phone picked up by the “Bat box” as they emerged (Terence is photographed here climbing to the cave with Ian Valmont, carrying the bat detector). I have uploaded it here for your listening pleasure.


Very little is known of the bat’s status and ecology, so this monitoring, part of a project that started in 2006, helps to contribute to existing data and  identify threats to its continued existence. The threat to the bats is real and present due to its unprotected status and the fact that it relies on coastal habitats which have come under intense pressure from housing and tourism development on both Mahé and Silhouette.

Find more information on the bat at EDGE