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Senator to Serve Prison Time for Smuggling Endangered Fruit Bats

Jul 26, 2013 03:45 PM EDT

A senator from the US territory of the Northern Mariana Islands admitted in court to smuggling endangered fruit bats, the US Fish and Wildlife Service reported this week.

Juan Manglona Ayuyu, senator for Rota in the Northern Marianas Commonwealth legislature, pled guilty to federal charges brought against him in the US District Court in Saipan.

Ayuyu entered a plea of guilty for conspiracy to violate the endangered species act and to obstructing an official proceeding. He admitted to conspiring with his legislative assistant to transport eight federally protected Mariana fruit bats, or Fanihi, from Rota to Saipan on board a Freedom Air flight in 2010. He also admitted to asking his assistant, Ryan James Inos Manglona, to lie to the grand jury about their involvement in the smuggling.

According to the Pacific Daily News, a Guamanian newspaper, Ayuyu will receive a sentence of 33 to 41 months in prison. He will be sentenced on Nov. 8.

Ayuyu is expected to resign from his post soon, according to Radio New Zealand International.

A 2000 count of the fanihi bats, which get their name from the fruits it favors, numbered about 4,500 in the Marinas. In nearby Guam, fewer than 50 were documented by a recent US Fish and Wildlife survey.

The Pacific Daily News reports that fanihi have been eaten as food ever since humans arrived on the island and that eating them is a cultural tradition.

Fanihi are native to the Marianas and Caroline islands in the west Pacifc Ocean. Like most fruit bats, they roost in colonies in the canopies or trees.

On Guam, the greatest threat to fanihi is predation from brown tree snakes and illegal hunting, according to a factsheet published on Guampedia. Illegal hunting on Rota, the district of senator Ayuyu, has "greatly reduced the population" of fanihi in the region, the fact sheet stated.

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