Rare Okinawa flying fox back in the wild after brush with death

The fruit bats of Okinawa's Daito islands are a designated national natural monument whose image appears on everything from tourist t-shirts to the labels of the local rum. So when one was injured recently, locals went to great lengths to save it.

Daito flying foxes

The Pteropus dasymallus daitonensis, better known as the Daito flying fox, is the only mammal indigenous to islands that make up the Daito archipelago.

Pteropus dasymallus daitonensis
Daito flying foxes hang from tree branches.

But their existence has been threatened since human habitation began there around 120 years ago, bringing cars, cats and electric wiring among other dangers. Experts believe there are now just 300 to 400 of the creatures remaining.

Injured bat gets lifeline

Late last year, a resident of Minami Daito Island spotted a young fruit bat bleeding in the street, apparently having been struck by a vehicle.

There are no veterinarians on the island, so the resident contacted a wildlife protection officer on the island. The officer took advice from a veterinarian on the main island of Okinawa and took the injured animal home.

The following day, the bat was transported by air to Naha Airport. From there, local staff from Japan's environment ministry coordinated its transfer to an animal hospital.

The injured Daito flying fox

The bat was treated by Nagamine Takashi, president of the Okinawa Wildlife Federation, who works to protect Okinawa's rare creatures.

Veterinarian Nagamine Takashi tends to the injured Daito flying fox.

It's not the first time an injured bat has reached Nagamine's clinic, but he says many have either died during transportation or failed to recover to the point where they could fly again and be returned to nature.

This time, the islanders, an airline company, and Japan's environment ministry all helped to make sure the injured bat reached Nagamine swiftly.

The flying fox receives treatment.

"There are only a limited number of bats, so if humans are responsible for hurting one, I think it's our duty to try to return them to the wild," says Nagamine.

Veterinarian Nagamine Takashi

Back in the wild

After about three months of treatment, the Daito flying fox returned to health and was flown back to Minami Daito.

Residents of Minami Daito came to see the flying fox get released back into the wild.

Its arrival generated great local interest, with about 100 people gathering to watch — and applaud — the release.

Back to full health, the creature takes flight.

Nagamine calls it "a very rewarding result," and says he hopes it inspires people to take care of other rare creatures who might be injured by human activity.

Local people and Nagamine applauded the bat's release.