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Endangered bat not seen in Rwanda in four decades

A critically endangered bat species not seen in 40 years has been found in Rwandawith the “incredible” discovery that delighted conservationists who feared it was already extinct.

But the Hill’s Horseshoe Bat was, in fact, still clinging to life in Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest — a dense rainforest home to endangered mountain gorillas — according to the consortium behind the discovery.

There was no information on the population of the mammals and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2021 listed them as critically endangered.

Rediscovering the lost species “was incredible,” Jon Flanders, director of Bat Conservation International (BCI), said in a statement late Tuesday.

“It’s amazing to think that we are the first people to see this bat in such a long time.”

As of 2013, the Texas-based nonprofit partnered with the Rwanda Development Board and the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association to conduct surveys in the jungle.

In 2019, after a 10-day expedition scouring the caves in the forest, the scientists found the bat.

“We knew right away that the bat we caught was unusual and remarkable,” said BCI chief scientist Winifred Frick.

“The facial features were exaggerated to the point of comic.”

But it took them another three years to verify the species.

The creatures of the night have long been infamous as monsters with teeth or disease vectors, with the coronavirus pandemic doing little to improve that picture after scientists said Covid-19 likely originated in the animals.

From the tiny two-gram “bumblebee bat” to the giant Philippine flying fox with its five-foot (five-foot) wingspan, bats make up one-fifth of all land mammals.

About 40 percent of the 1,321 species on the IUCN Red List are now classified as endangered.

Human actions — including deforestation and habitat loss — are to blame.

For the researchers in Rwanda, the elusive discovery marks the start of a new race to prevent the once-lost species from disappearing again.

“Now our real work begins to figure out how to protect this species well into the future,” Flanders said.

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