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Bats of Kenya

Straddling the equator in East Africa, Kenya is an economically impoverished but megadiverse country.  Many challenges confront its national development, among them a burgeoning human population, drought and climate change, and a too-small cadre of scientists and resource managers. Since 1998, The Field Museum has collaborated with two Kenyan scientific agencies--Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the National Museums of Kenya (NMK)--to solve the nation's scientific challenges and train personnel.

Richness of African bat faunas by country (from Patterson & Webala, 2012), showing the remarkable richness of East African faunas.

One of these challenges is the management of Kenya's native bat populations. Bats represent fully one-quarter of Kenya's ca. 400 mammal species. Scientists are only now realizing the important ecological services provided by bats.  In addition to maintaining healthy ecosystems through pollination of flowers, seed dispersal, and consuming herbivorous insects, bats are crucial -- if usually overlooked -- partners in modern agriculture.


Myotis welwitschii from Kisumu Impala Sanctuary, Jan 2012 (photo by Bruce Patterson)

A recent study (Boyles JG, PM Cryan, GF McCracken & TH Kunz [2011] Economic importance of bats in agriculture. Science 332, 41-42) estimated that consumption of insects by American bats is worth $3.7 to 50 billion annually in avoided crop losses and/or pesticide applications.  Because Kenyan agriculture is largely subsistence-based, its reliance on natural pest control by bats may be even greater.  Most bat species known from Kenya are insect-eaters; their abundance, roosts, habits, and diets are unknown.  So too are their possible roles as reservoirs or vectors of human disease.  Diseases like rabies, Marburg and Ebola are known from Kenyan bats - this is a growing concern as Kenya's economic development brings people closer to wildlife.

In August 2011, Kenyan scientist Paul Webala (now a lecturer at Karatina University College, a branch of Moi University), WKU professor Carl Dick, and I began a three-year program to survey the bats of Kenya.  This work has three immediate purposes: 1) to document the distribution, status, and ecology of Kenya's rich bat fauna, 2) to give KWS insights into managing an important and economically valuable resource, and 3) to create a vouchered call library for bats in Kenya that will enable KWS and research scientists to remotely monitor bats.  In the course of this work, we are expanding Dr. Webala's training in systematics and genetics to enhance his proficiency as a mentor for the next generation of Kenyan scientists.  In April and May 2012, Paul and Ruth Keeru -- a technician at National Museums of Kenya -- came to Chicago for advanced training and shortly afterwards, JRS Biodiversity Foundation awarded Paul, me, and Dave Waldien (Bat Conservation International) a $90,000 grant to pursue this project.  A page describing the status of that work can be found here.

Carl Dick (left), Paul Webala (right) and I outside Lirhanda Hill Cave, Kakamega Forest (Jan 2012)

Project Publications

Cover of our Fieldiana: Life and Earth Sciences volume on identifying East African bats

Morse, S.F., K.J. Olival, M. Kosoy, S. Billeter, B.D. Patterson, C.W. Dick & K.Dittmar. 2012. Global distribution and genetic diversity of Bartonella in bat flies (Hippoboscoidea, Streblidae, Nycteribiidae). Infection, Genetics and Evolution 12:1717-1723. pdf (588 kb).

Patterson, B.D., & P.W. Webala.  2012.  Keys to the bats (Mammalia: Chiroptera) of East Africa. Fieldiana: Life and Earth Sciences 6:1-63. pdf (6.7 Mb)

Patterson, B.D., P. Webala, R. Keeru, C. Dick & A. Weber. 2013. Delimiting Cryptic Species for ‘The Bats of Kenya’ – the Genus Miniopterus (Miniopteridae).  NASBR-IBRC Meeting, San José, Costa Rica (abstract only)

Musila, S., T. Adhola, G. Mwangi, S. Odour, D. Happold, M. Happold, A. Monadjem, P. Webala, C. Musyoki, Y.A. De Jong, T.M. Butynski, M. Ogada & B.D. Patterson. In revision. A checklist of the mammals of Kenya. Journal of East African Natural History.

Patterson, B.D., P.W. Webala & C.W. Dick. In prep. The Bats of Kenya. Publisher to be determined.

A nycteribiid bat fly (Penicellidia sp.) on a Hipposideros bat in
Nakuru, Kenya (photo by B. D. Patterson, Aug 2011)

Some videos of our fieldwork

Collecting bat flies with Carl


Carl Dick picking ectoparasites from a giant mastiff bat


Cave Bats of Kenya

Subpages (1): Progress on the project