Reading, UK, April 2012: I had just stood down as chairperson of my county bat group.
‘I’m off to New Zealand!’ I announced. Amid the jealous best wishes to enjoy the beautiful country, was the comment, ‘Why do you want to go there? - they have no bats! You’ll be back in no time!’
Such is the widely held, mistaken belief that New Zealand has no bats. A view held not just by foreigners; New Zealanders are mostly oblivious to the existence of their one native mammal too.
I have talked to landowners who swear there are no bats around their place, and never have been in their lifetime, when I had watched and listened to them the night before in the adjacent paddock. We can be forgiven for this view when you realise how rare they are and how difficult to see or hear.
There have only been four species of bats in Aotearoa-New Zealand, all present in the past here in Otago. One species (the largest) was only just discovered as fossil remains very recently, though it became extinct.
The next largest (the greater short-tailed bat) lost its last foothold on life in a rat invasion of Big South Cape Island off Rakiura-Stewart Island in the late 1960s. Its nearest relative, the lesser short-tailed bat has only 13 known populations, just two of them in the South (Eglinton Valley and Whenhou-Codfish Island). All three of these species are famous for their unusual habit of burrowing under the leaf litter to find food prey.
Incredibly, The Catlins has managed to hold on to one species of bat; the long-tailed bat (LTB or Chalinalobus tuberculatus). Along with other special creatures we are lucky to have like the Whakaho or NZ Sea-lion, mohua /yellow-head and Hoiho /yellow-eyed penguin, their conservation status is ‘threatened’.
LTBs are tiny; all of 8g of