Why conservationists are giving these rare bats a manicure

Conservation technology has come a long way in recent decades. Scientists can now track birds’ migratory patterns via satellite and try to bring species back from the brink of extinction through advanced fertility technology. But there is still room for more low-tech approaches. Sometimes all you need are small fishing nets and four bottles of nail varnish.

They were the chief tools in a project undertaken recently by a group of Cuban and international scientists trying to get a grip on just how many endangered greater funnel-eared bats remain in their last-known habitat of Cueva la Barca (“boat cave”), a huge, humid underground cave system on Cuba’s second-largest island, Isla de la Juventud.

The researchers needed a way to catch, mark, and release the bats in order to track them, but due to the fragile status and modest size of the bats, the more conventional capture and recapture method to count mammals such as necklaces were not an option. Thus, the idea was born to give each animal its own bespoke manicure.

The team used small nets with threads thinner than a fishing net to capture each bat. Scientists then marked each bats’ claws with a unique combination of four different colors of non-permanent varnish. The unique nail job meant they were able to identify animals they had already captured, allowing them to get an idea of the density of bats in the cave.

The whole process takes around 20 minutes per bat and is helping scientists in their quest to save these rare bats from extinction.

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