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NICOSIA (Reuters Life!) - Fruit bats are getting a raw deal when it comes to their survival, European experts on the endangered mammal said on Thursday.
The furry creatures' penchant for juicy fruit has made them enemy number one on the fruit farmer's hit list, they told a conference in Cyprus.
"Fruit bats are generally having a tougher time than other mammals," co-chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Bat Specialist Group, Paul Racey said.
There are 41,000 species of bat worldwide and 16,000 of these are under threat from extinction.
Cyprus is the only country in Europe which is home to the fruit bat.
Centuries of conflict between fruit farmers and the "flying fox" pillaging their crops, as was the case in Cyprus, almost wiped out the island's bat population.
"The authorities would hand out free cartridges to keep bat numbers down," said conservation expert Andreas Demetropoulos.
In line with Cyprus's EU accession, fruit bats came under the protection of Natura 2000 -- an international convention for the protection of endangered species.
With 22 bat species on the eastern Mediterranean island, Demetropoulos and his team are carrying out a three-year study on the distribution and diversity of bats.
"Cyprus has a lot of natural caves around limestone areas, and many old mineshafts are mostly inhabited by bats," Demetropoulos said.
"To stop the continuous victimization suffered by bats in Cyprus, the Agriculture ministry and various NGOs on the island are trying to educate adults and children about bats," said director of Cyprus Environment Service, Antonis Antoniou.
Since 2007 the Cyprus government has been funding farmers to invest in nets to protect their fruit and the bats.
In India and many other countries, bats have always been classified as vermin. While in Seychelles, one third of hotels and restaurants surveyed by the Environment Ministry served "flying fox."
Viewed in popular folklore as an ominous sign, bats are not as bad as superstition makes them out to be, Racey said.
"A fruit bat's role as a pollinator and in seed dispersal helps keep the native plants regenerating," Racey told Reuters.
Meanwhile, other species of bat help reduce pest species such as biting midges or malaria carrying insects, as well as the need for using a number of pesticides being sprayed on crops, experts said.
Editing by Paul Casciato