Fiji Resort's Animal Rescue Initiative

Katherine Vallera

© Copyright 2018 by Katherine Vallera

Originally published by TravelPulse

Photo of Figi boys.

She emerged from the private island resort’s gardens, cradling a small creature wrapped in a fleece blanket. It definitely wasn’t your typical bundle of joy.

Instead, it was an adorable baby fruit bat that gazed back with glistening wide eyes full of wonder, conveying innocence, vulnerability and curiosity.

The woman who carried the young bat, Flo, was one of the owners of Matangi Private Island Resort in Fiji. She described how she’d rescued the bat from the beach, where it’d been abandoned by its mother and had no hope for survival. Luckily, the juvenile would be cared for by Matangi’s owners, whose compassion for animals is echoed in the warmth and amiability they extend to the resort’s guests and community.

Matangi Private Island Resort & Spa is an intimate adults-only resort and tropical haven for honeymooners as well as nature and adventure lovers alike. A series of hiking trails maintained by the resort allows visitors to explore native flora and fauna while meditating upon the island’s natural serenity.

Both intimate and exquisite, the resort consists of twelve boutique bures (bungalows) accompanied by an oceanfront spa and an open-air restaurant. It’s in this space that guests are presented with world-class gastronomy and introduced to the local community through musical performances.

This was actually my first encounter with Flo, not recognizing her as one of the resort’s owners, as she stood singing alongside a chorus made up of staff and villagers. When I had the chance to speak with her over dinner, I learned she grew up on the island.

In fact, her family has lived there for 140 years.

Before Flo’s family migrated to Fiji, it was a part of the Tongan Empire. For this reason, much of the resort’s architecture is borrowed from Polynesia, incorporating concepts of design that cannot be found elsewhere in the nation. This can be observed in the circular layout of structures summoning fresh sea breezes and natural ventilation.

As Fiji’s growing tourism industry brings more visitors to Matangi Private Island Resort, the owners remain dedicated to natural preservation. Part of this devotion is manifested in their love for animals and a commitment to rescuing those who are injured or abandoned.

Once vetted and rehabilitated, some animals can be re-released. Those that are unable to survive unassisted are cared for by Flo and her husband. For the most part, the rescue animals are kept separate from the resort and only come out when guests express interest.

The list of rescued animals goes on to include domestic guinea pigs—with the resort’s most popular rescue going by the name of Miss Piggy. There’s an entire bird sanctuary located next to the office, home to a variety of species including a one-legged duck named Peg.

Flo is often accompanied by a menagerie of dogs, cats and even a goat named Blackie (who thinks she’s a dog). I learned that she was raised alongside the dogs after she’d been rescued from a remote beach, where she’d been abandoned with a broken leg and the tide coming in.

As Flo emerged from the garden, she was followed by a parade of animals. The baby bat in her arms would join ten others residing in a bat sanctuary, which may be the most important aspect of Matangi’s animal rescue.

I know what you’re thinking: “eek, bats are creepy.” Somewhere between Gotham City and Transylvania, bats obtained a less than favorable reputation, becoming synonymous with darkness in popular culture. Even I approached the bats with apprehension only to discover how loveable these creatures are in person.

Bats are the only native mammals of Fiji, yet five out of six species are threatened or critically endangered.

Because they play a vital role in the ecosystem by disseminating pollen and curtailing insect populations, it’s important for residents like Flo and her husband to challenge widespread misconceptions by maintaining the bat sanctuary and generating awareness.

In 2017, The Fiji Times published a feature explaining the importance of bats to the country’s natural heritage. Conservation officer Siteri Tikoca told reporters that it’s usually locals who carry this message between communities and become champions of the conservation initiative.

It gives me optimism to have encountered such a love for all animals in Fiji as the culture adapts to global influences and modernization. This is exemplified by the empathy for injured and abandoned animals that’s demonstrated by the owners of Matangi Private Island Resort.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

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