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16 February 2009
PG / 211
Environment Minister Peter Garrett has accepted the recommendations of Australia's leading threatened species experts - the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) - for further urgent action on the Christmas Island pipistrelle bat.
The Committee has recommended actions to address the continued decline of Christmas Island biodiversity and to minimise the risks associated with a captive breeding program for the pipistrelle.
"Sadly, the Committee has confirmed what we feared, that the pipistrelle is in severe decline and that extinction in the wild is almost inevitable," Mr Garrett said.
"We are now at a critical stage. Despite some $470,000 spent over the last five years under the recovery plan and around $4 million spent slashing the numbers of yellow crazy ants which are the biggest threat to biodiversity on the island, combined with the huge efforts by park managers and independent scientists, these actions have so far failed to reverse its rapid decline.
"Unfortunately, the Threatened Species Scientific Committee has also advised me that there is a high risk associated with a proposed captive breeding program for the pipistrelle with so few left on the island. The bats are also very difficult to catch and no-one knows how to keep them alive for breeding.
"The Committee have informed me that they are aware of no captive breeding program for microbats undertaken anywhere in the world - we are on new ground here.
"I therefore accept that there are unacceptably high risks involved in embarking on an immediate captive breeding program.
"However, on the Committee's recommendation, a trial program on a closely related species, Pipistrellus westralis, will begin as soon as possible. This bat is abundant and secure in the top end of the Northern Territory and I am pleased the Northern Territory Government will work with us on this project.
"The objective, within three months, is to demonstrate safe capture methods and to identify optimal husbandry requirements of the species.
"At the same time, the Director of National Parks is preparing for a potential captive breeding program on Christmas Island, in the event that the mainland trial is successful."
Mr Garrett said TSSC chair Associate Professor Bob Beeton had agreed to chair an experts group, which will meet on island within the next few weeks to review the threats to biodiversity across the entire of Christmas Island.
"These experts will identify priorities to protect all the island's biodiversity, so that actions to intensify threat identification and abatement feed into the Regional Recovery Plan that is currently under development.
"We will do whatever is practical and feasible to save the pipistrelle, even though it is the case that bat numbers on the island have been in rapid decline for around 14 years now for reasons that are not clear. I am deeply concerned by the fact that its prospects do not appear bright on the basis of our current understanding of the situation."