Christmas Island pipistrelle

The Christmas Island pipistrelle is Australia’s only recorded microbat extinction.

Christmas Island pipistrelle

Article by Clancy Hall, conservation biologist

A dark knight for bat fans

In the wake of national threatened species day, I thought it appropriate to visit the story of Australia’s only recorded microbat extinction, the Christmas Island pipistrelle (Pipistrellus murrayi). To the lay observer, the Christmas Island pipistrelle (CIP) looks similar to many other microbats found across Australia. What made this little bat truly exceptional, however, is that it was the only microbat to be found on Australia’s most western territory, Christmas Island.

The CIP was abundant and widespread across the island until the 1980’s, after which its disappearance was as rapid as it was mysterious. By the turn of the century the species had reduced by at least 50% in both abundance and range, and by 2006 their numbers had dropped in excess of 90%. The reason for this decline is unclear; however, the finger points at roost disturbance and predation from introduced species.

A final plan to secure individuals for a captive insurance population was fraught with disappointment as the CIP population reduced to a maximum estimate of 20 in January 2009, then a lone individual in August 2000, to none. Despite extensive and ongoing surveys, the IUCN declared the species extinct in 2017. The night skies of Christmas Island are now void of echolocation.

The story of the Christmas Island pipistrelle is a poignant reminder of the fragility of species and the vigilance required to conserve them.