Roxy was born a year ago yesterday at the Oregon Zoo. She’s a Rodrigues flying fox, a critically endangered species of bat. Keepers hand-reared her after she was rejected by her mom.
Closer in size to a flying prairie dog — and in appearance to a flying Ewok — this endangered species is native only to Rodrigues, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean about 900 miles east of Madagascar. The bat plays an important ecological role on the island, where few other pollinators or seed dispersers exist.
By the 1970s, much of the bats' forest habitat had been cleared, and the species was perilously close to disappearing. After a cyclone hit the island in 1979, fewer than 100 individuals remained, making the Rodrigues flying fox the rarest bat in the world.
The bats found a champion in English naturalist Gerald Durrell, who translocated some survivors to form a breeding colony aimed at repopulating the species. Today, the Rodrigues flying fox population has increased to around 20,000 thanks to more than four decades of conservation activity.
The Oregon Zoo began housing "Rods" — as they're often called in zoological circles — in 1994, and has raised more than 50 pups since then, periodically sending bats to other zoos as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan for Rodrigues flying foxes — a cooperative program that helps maintain genetically diverse, self-sustaining populations to guarantee the long-term future of these animals.