In honor of the upcoming Halloween holiday (which they don’t celebrate in Zambia), we took a little camping trip to the Kasanka National Park, home to the world’s largest (?) bat migration. The bats come to one of Zambia’s smallest (and only privately managed) parks from about the end of October to the end of December. Where do they come from? It’s a bit of a mystery but it is believed they come from all over central/Southern Africa, mostly the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, or Congo DR as they call it here....). The number of bats that come have been reported as high as 8 million.The bats are Straw-Coloured Fruit Bats. They have a wingspan of about 80cm. They eat....fruit! The BBC is sending a crew for a month so we'll be on the lookout for the results of that project. This migration phenomenon is still kind of a mystery.
Access in the bat forest is tightly controlled as the bats are easily disturbed. Also the Park funds itself with entrance fees and such -- it's run as a private trust, the "Kasanka National Trust." Two of the kids classmates have grown up here b/c their parents manage the trust - but are recent migrants back to Lusaka, having now turned 6 and 8.
As we heard from the folks at the main lodge....after the fact... the forest is also a favorite place of the park’s leopards, crocs, black mambas, and elephants. Another good reason to go with an armed escort.
To see the bats you can climb up into ‘hides’ that are platforms 40 feet up.
This is a hide that isn't in the bat forest but it gives you an idea. The hides in the forest rise out of dense cover and you only get to them when the forest is dark .... and creepy. Perfect for leopards and crocs but not perfect for cameras.
The first trip up was terrifying for him, the rest were terrifying for his parents! Fearless Finn!
It’s hard to describe. It looks in the photo as though we’re at top of the treetop (the view from our perch, below) but in fact the treetops have been all pulled down to this level by the weight of the many bats roosting daily in the forest.
Every evening at dusk the bats leave their roosts, returning at 3 or 4 in the morning. The spectacle of 8 million bats taking flight at once....it’s incredible. The taller trees in the distance are just stick trunks -- the clumps are all bats.
you can see the tree on the left, full with bats and the trees (what's left of them) on the right where the bats have already flown. Below, a close up -- those dark clumps are all bats.
The best is the sound - of the bats calling but also the 'whooooossshhhh' of them flying from a roost all at once. For that you'll have to climb up the Fibwe Hide and experience this yourself! (tho I think O took a movie with his camera, I'll see if he can upload it onto his blog!)