A critically endangered “lost species” came crashing back into existence in the Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda recently, as the Hill’s horseshoe bat was rediscovered in the net of a team of conservationists marking its first appearance in 40 years.
“When we caught it, we all just looked at it and said, ‘You look ridiculous. Look how big your nose leaf is,’” Dr Jon Flanders, director of endangered species interventions at Bat Conservation International, told Mongabay. Quite the welcome party.
Behind the comical discovery was a multi-national team of experts led by Bat Conservation International (BCI), Rwanda Development Board (RDB), and the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA). Surveys had been conducted since 2013 but it was on a fateful night in January 2019 that the rediscovery occurred.
With a sizable schnozz, the Hill’s horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hillorum) certainly made an impression.
“We knew immediately that the bat we had captured was unusual and remarkable,” said BCI Chief Scientist Dr Winifred Frick in a statement.
“The facial features were exaggerated to the point of comical. Horseshoe bats are easily distinguishable from other bats by characteristic horseshoe shape and specialized skin flaps on their noses.”
Known as a nose leaf, the voluminous bit of kit on the Hill’s horseshoe’s nose is an adaptation that is thought to help certain bats who echolocate nasally in shaping and modifying their calls.
Rare bat in hand, the team carefully took measurements and made the first-ever echolocation recording for the Hill’s horseshoe bat before letting the big-nosed star of the show fly free again.
The world-first recordings are a particular win for the conservation of the species, as the Nyungwe Park Rangers have since been able to set up detectors to eavesdrop on any Hill’s horseshoe bat conversations. Sneaky.
When they caught the bat, its size and the sheer volume of its nose pointed towards the likely species. To be sure, Flanders later took a trip to museum archives in Europe to compare against the only known Hill’s horseshoe bat specimens in the world to confirm.
“Going into this project we feared the species may have already gone extinct,” he said. “Rediscovering Hill’s horseshoe bat was incredible – it’s astonishing to think that we’re the first people to see this bat in so long.”
“Now our real work begins to figure out how to protect this species long into the future.”
Speaking of bats with wondrous faces, have you seen the built-in face masks of the wrinkle-faced bat (Centurio senex)? Or how about the unbeatable schnozz of the hammer-headed fruit bat (Hypsignathus monstrosus)?