Promoting Bat conservation in Northwest Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) through awareness and capacity building of relevant stakeholders, 2018

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Under the umbrella and financial support of Eurobats, organised by the Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II (IAV) in Rabat, this workshop aimed to promote awareness of bats and their conservation in Northwestern Africa by advising decision makers and relevant stakeholders. In addition, this workshop intended to encourage wildlife biologists to expand their knowledge on advanced technologies and good practices in bat research and conservation. Even if all bats are protected in the three countries, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, they are still sometimes prosecuted (ignorance, superstition, sorcery), suffer natural habitat deterioration due to timber use, city expansion, transport and energy infrastructures, overgrazing, pesticides and disturbance in their roosts (e.g. cave tourism). A total of fifty participants partly or fully attended the workshop including three Algerian scientists, one Tunisian conservationist and three foreign French bat workers for their knowledge on bats of Northwestern Africa. The Moroccan participants were stakeholders (Haut Commissariat aux Eaux et Forêts et à la Lutte Contre la Désertification, Ministère du Tourisme), scientists and students (Institut Scientifique, Faculté des Sciences (Rabat, Fès), IAV, Ecole Normale Forestière d’Ingénieurs, ECWP Missour), NGO members (ASMAPEC, Moroccan Explorers). The objectives of the workshop have been achieved by (1) oral presentations (A. Abiadh, B. Allegrini,, S. Aulagnier, T. Dieuleveut, E. Sehhar) on bat biology and ecology, legal background and conservation initiatives, survey and monitoring methods (colonies and foraging bats), devices for roost preservation, present context of bat conservation in each country of Northwestern Africa (bat richness, distribution, legislation, conservation status and initiatives), (2) training on acoustic identification (B. Allegrini, F. Cuzin & T. Dieuleveut) and (3) general discussions for reporting on education, public events and promotion (including the International Bat Night in Algeria and Tunisia, a bilingual Tunisian leaflet), improving the dissemination of information, identifying the main threats on bat populations and listing the main measures to improve bat conservation. Methods on bat survey and monitoring focused on ethics: avoiding any disturbance in roosts and on foraging areas, promoting non-invasive techniques as an alternative to capture such as ultrasound call detection (survey, monitoring) which is now reasonable for anyone, or genetic analysis of faeces (species identification, population dynamics, diet), for professional bat workers. Then practical training alternated field recording at night and room identification. Several different active and passive bat detectors were brought by some participants or discounted by three suppliers who are warmly thanked. Recorded species were identified in small groups using different softwares for a useful comparison. As the main outcome of this workshop, the last general discussion resulted in a list of measures to improve general knowledge on bat populations and their conservation status, without forgetting education and public awareness. Improving general knowledge on bat populations includes: (1) collecting acoustic references for Northwestern Africa, (2) promoting a habitat typology (with vegetation structure and main species), (3) studying the taxonomic status of targeted species, (4) preparing a database for bat distribution and habitat use, (5) delivering methodological field guides, and (6) supplemented the inventory of caves by information on bats (sightings or faeces). Improving the conservation status of bats includes: (1) identifying priority foraging areas for preserving them (e.g. Bou Idmouma forest, Zawyat Ech Chiekh, Morocco), (2) protecting underground roosts with speleologists, particularly in case of tourism projects, (3) considering the importance of biodiversity, particularly bats, by forest managers, (4) disseminating legal information for stopping appropriation and trade, and (5) preparing guidelines for impact assessments of wind farms before and after construction. Education and public awareness includes: (1) promoting bat knowledge for undergraduate and graduate students, (2) training college teachers, (3) improving research on bats by co-direction of master or doctorate theses, (4) advising speleologists during their training sessions, (5) organising public conferences and field trips for the International Bat Night (suggesting the ecosystem services associated with bats), (6) rising awareness of farmers and authorities on the danger associated with pesticides, and (7) sharing information, communication material among conservation NGOs.

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