Going for the gold can often end in heart-breaking defeat, as one intrepid bat learned last week when a Russian house cat mortally wounded it and left it for dead when it was just 127 miles short of a world-record-breaking flight.
In a statement put out by the UK-based Bat Conservation Trust (BCT), the long-distance flyer – a Pipistrellus nathusii dubbed "Olympic Bat" by scientists – had already flown 1,253.9 miles (2,018 km) across Europe from its starting point in the UK when its trek ended in the Russian village of Moglino.
There, an unidentified cat felled the flyer, grievously wounding it and leaving it for dead on the ground. The injured bat was discovered by a Moglino resident who notified a local bat conservation group who came and rescued it, but they were unable to save its life. It weighed just 8 grams and was about the size of a thumb.
The bat also had a ring on its arm with London Zoo written on it, so the group notified the BCT. Turns out the bat was tagged by a volunteer bat recorder, Brian Briggs, in Bedfont Lakes Country Park near Heathrow, London, in 2016.
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"This is very exciting," Briggs said. "It’s great to be able to contribute to the international conservation work to protect these extraordinary animals and learn more about their fascinating lives."
The longest bat flight ever recorded, according to LiveScience, was also by a P. nathusii, this one flying from Latvia to Spain in 2019, covering a distance of 1,381 miles (2,223km).
There are silver medals in the Olympics though, and Olympic Bat did manage to record the second-longest bat flight ever recorded. It did break some records in its own right, including the longest-ever bat flight from the UK, and the longest bat flight during a west-to-east migration.
"Her journey is an exciting scientific finding and another piece in the puzzle of bat migration," said Lisa Worledge, Head of Conservation Services at BCT, said. "The movements of Nathusius’ pipistrelles around the UK and between the UK and the continent remain largely mysterious."
"This is a remarkable journey and the longest one we know of any bat from Britain across Europe," Worledge added. "What an Olympian!"
According to BCT, the National Nathusius' Pipistrelle Project, launched in 2014, has recorded more than 2,600 P. nathusii in the UK to help study the species' breeding habits, migration behaviors, and distribution. Understanding how and where these bats migrate as well as where they set up maternity colonies is crucial to conservation efforts.
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