A small creature with a horseshoe-shaped nose and ears for days, the horseshoe bat has recently been spotted for the first time in 40 years. After one of its members was discovered in Rwanda, it seems this "lost species" hasn't been so lost after all...
Since it's been listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature for years, scientists weren't sure whether the species still existed. "Going into this project we feared the species may have already gone extinct," explained Jon Flanders, the director of endangered species interventions at Bat Conservation International (BCI). But a 2019 sighting of one of these animals by researchers on a 10-day expedition in Rwanda's Nyungwe National Park put an end to their uncertainty. After the three years of research, it took scientists to verify the species, it was officially announced that the species had been rediscovered.
Winifred Frick, BCI's chief scientist, says the horseshoe bat can be distinguished from other bat species, thanks to the unique folds of skin that surround its nose. The lower part of its nose leaf is shaped like the letter 'U,' - or a horseshoe, as the species' name suggests. In addition to its apparent features, several other measurements of the bat were taken before it was released back into the wild. Some of these included recorded echolocation calls, which are the high-frequency sound vibrations that guide bats as they travel and hunt.
"Knowing the echolocation calls for this species is a game changer," said Paul Webala, a professor at Maasai Mara University in Kenya and one of the team's lead scientists. The sound waves helped the team track the mammals in their natural habitat, and eventually led them to identify eight locations in the national park. Knowing their locations will help researchers work to preserve the endangered species. Around 40% of the 1,321 bats species assessed by the IUCN are now officially classified as endangered. But the recent discovery of the horseshoe bat in Rwanda brings hope to scientists who are working to take this mammal's species off the red list. "Now our real work begins to figure out how to protect this species long into the future," BCI's Jon Flanders explained. While the discovery does provide a glimmer of hope for the animal world, it's up to us to make sure the newly rediscovered horseshoe bat is here to stay.