Rare bat population given ‘manicures’ so numbers can be counted

A group of one of the world’s rarest bats is being treated to pampering sessions, as experts use nail varnish to count their numbers.

Cuban greater funnel-eared bats are being given manicures as scientists try to measure how many of them still exist.

The creatures are confined to a cave in Western Cuba and in urgent need of conservation attention, international charity the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said.

A ZSL EDGE conservationist painting the ‘nails’ or claws of the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat (ZSL/PA)

Less than 750 of the bats remain in a single cave on the peninsula of Guanahacabibes, the preliminary results from the species’ first population estimates by ZSL’s EDGE of Existence programme revealed.

Needing to identify individual bats, the researchers employed a low-tech but effective method for harmlessly marking the bats.

They used four different nail varnish colours to paint the bats’ “nails”, enabling them to create thousands of combinations for unique markings to identify each one.

A Cuban greater funnel-eared bat (Carolina Soto Navarro/ZSL/PA)

Marking bats is usually very challenging and is typically done using necklaces, arm rings or wing punches.

But scientists say this can sometimes alter behaviour.

Previously declared as extinct, the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat was rediscovered in 1992 in Guanahacabibes.

Fossils have been found nearly all over Cuba, as well as on Grand Cayman and various islands in the Bahamas.

Though the cause of the mass population decline is unknown, funnel-eared bats have a naturally high vulnerability to extinction due to their specific habitat of hot caves.

The Cueva la Barca population are now threatened by human intrusion and collapse of their cave roof due to thermal instability.

Climate change poses a significant risk, further exacerbating the issue.

Jose Manuel De La Cruz Mora, ZSL’s Segre-EDGE Fellow, based at the Natural History Museum of Pinar del Rio said: “The story of the Cuban funnel-eared bat really resonated with me as it reiterates the absolute need to ensure underappreciated species like bats don’t become lost to scientific history, simply because we forget to look.

“Though marking bats is very challenging and it’s typically done using necklaces, arm rings or wing punches, this can sometimes alter behaviour.

“As the remaining population of the bats were so small and understanding their biology is fundamental to our research, we wanted to keep things as natural as possible, apart from their brightly coloured nails of course.

“It was time-consuming giving each bat an individual manicure, but it’s an incredible privilege to get up-close to this amazing animal and to discover more about them made all those hours painting their nails worth it.”

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