PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - Three endangered bat babies were recently born at the Oregon Zoo.
The new Rodrigues flying foxes - also known as Rodrigues fruit bats - add to the growing population of a species once considered the most imperiled on Earth, according to zoo officials.
The species is native only to Rodrigues, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean about 900 miles east of Madagascar. By the 1970s, much of the bats’ forest habitat had been cleared, and the species was close to disappearing. After a cyclone hit the island in 1979, fewer than 100 individuals remained, making it the rarest bat in the world.
The bats found a champion in English naturalist Gerald Durrell, who translocated some survivors to form a breeding colony aimed at repopulating the species.
Today, zoo officials say the Rodrigues flying fox population has increased to around 20,000 thanks to more than four decades of conservation activity.
Zoo officials say the new pups are proof of the impact people can have on wildlife and species conservation.
"Each new arrival is significant for this species," said Amy Cutting, who oversees the zoo’s bat area. "Forty years ago, Rodrigues flying foxes were at the very brink of extinction. The fact that they’re still around shows how people can make a difference for wildlife."
The zoo began housing Rodrigues flying foxes in 1994.
Since then, the zoo says it has raised more than 50 pups, periodically sending bats to other zoos as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for Rodrigues flying foxes - a cooperative program that helps maintain genetically diverse, self-sustaining populations to guarantee the long-term future of these animals.
"Keeping a healthy insurance population in zoos is especially important for this species," Cutting said. "With so few left and such a limited geographic range, a severe weather event on their island could essentially wipe them out."
One of the new pups is being hand-raised by animal-care staff after its mother died just weeks after giving birth, according to zoo officials.
The "bat cave" at the zoo is temporarily closed to guests. Video of the new pups can be seen here.
The zoo is currently open Fridays through Mondays, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with last entry at 3 p.m. All guests, including zoo members, must reserve their tickets online in advance and masks are require throughout the zoo.
To learn more about what to expect when visiting, go to oregonzoo.org/reopening.