5 MILLION MAMMALS IN ONE HECTARE! More pics
That is five times as many mammals as the Serengeti wildebeest migration and happens in Zambia only 5 hours drive from Lusaka and the Copperbelt.
During November and December each year five million straw-coloured fruit bats take up residence in one hectare of Kasanka National Park’s mushitu swamp forest. Enticed by the abundance of such delicacies as musuku, mufinsa and the other wild fruits in the area, colonies of bats start arriving in late October.
Straw-coloured fruit bats are identifiable by their pale, tawny fur and bright orange neck. As with all fruit bats (alias flying foxes) they have dog-like facial features with small ears, large eyes and a long snout. The wingspan of a straw-coloured fruit bat reaches 85cm making them the largest bat in Southern Africa.
By day the bat colony roosts in the trees of the mushitu forest, packing themselves around branches and trunks which often break under the sheer weight of bat! Daily life is not easy for the bats as many predators including raptors turn to a diet of bats for the two months that the colony is in residence. Fish eagles, martial eagles, vultures and numerous other raptors have been seen to take the bats in flight and from the roost. Crocodiles, pythons and nile monitors clean up any bats found on the ground.
Watching the bats by day dispels a lot of the myths people associate with these nocturnal creatures. They are fascinating to study as they land upright on a branch, crawl along using four limbs over sleeping friends, until a suitable place is found, then drop into a hanging position only to be disturbed by one of the multitude of bats also clinging to the same small portion of branch. From this inverted position, the bats clean themselves, mate, urinate and perform most bodily functions associated with resting animals. Take off is very easy – let go with the feet and flap.
At dusk the noisy chatter and activity from the colony increases. Scouts fly out first and then in a seemingly ordered fashion the entire colony stream out of their roost in search of food. For 25minutes the sky is full of bats for as far as the eye can see, as they disperse over a 360 degree radius from the forest. It’s like an air traffic controllers worst nightmare! An occasional individual changes his mind and heads back inwards ducking diving and dodging others on their way out.
This is a spectacle not to be missed. Some of the world’s most experienced bat researchers have described it as a sight once seen, never forgotten. Chris and Tilde Stuart, wildife researchers and authors of many popular wildlife books, described it as one of Africa’s greatest wildlife spectacles if not the world’s.
How better to spend a weekend in November or December than to experience the extraordinary spectacle of the nightly exodus of 5 million bats within 25 minutes whilst enjoying a sundowner!
Bats aside November and December are probably the most beautiful months in Kasanka. Grass turns green, wildflowers appear, bright skies with occasional thunderstorms, migratory birds swell Kasanka’s bird list to well over 400 and as at all times of year sitatunga sightings are guaranteed from Fibwe hide!
Kasanka is only 5 hours drive on excellent tarmac from Lusaka and the Copperbelt and offers self-catering or full catering breaks. A special bat package including charter flights, accommodation and catering is available from Lusaka. It is also easy to include a flying visit to the nearby Bangweulu Swamps which offer spectacular wildlife viewing at this time of year. Kasanka and Shoebill Island in the Bangweulu Swamps are open all year.
The authors would like to thank Chris and Tilde Stuart and Heidi Richter.