Reading this week
- The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi (I meant to take more than a day on this one)
This past weekend my girlfriend and I went to go see the Bat Migration at Kasanka National Park. The bat migration is the largest mammal migration on the planet. So it is very worth going to. The bats of the bat migration are the straw-colored fruit bat. They come from all over Western Africa (not just the DRC, according to our guide) to feed on the musuku fruits that abound near Kasanka at this time of year. Somewhere in the range of 8-12 million bats all gather in the park. The most remarkable part of it all is that all those bats choose to roost every day in a very small portion of the forest in the park, only about 1km long by 400m wide. So every day in the morning and in the evening the bats all return to and fly out from the same patch of forest, giving a hell of a show.
Most volunteers when they go to see the bats choose to camp, but I decided to splurge and stay in the lodge for two nights. It was a pretty nice experience. The meals were included and we got some extra activities thrown in. We arrived on Friday in time for lunch. Wasa Lodge, the lodge we stayed at, is right on Wasa Lake, which is a small lake about 12km into the park. Besides the bats, Kasanka is known for its wide variety of birds and for its sitatunga. The lodge being right on the lake gives a good opportunity to see both, especially from the porch of our chalet or from the dining area.
A sitatunga pokes its head above the grass by Lake Wasa.
That evening we went on a Wasa Walk, which was a hour or so long walk around the lake; it isn’t a very big lake. Going around the lake makes for a pleasant walk. We saw some puku, which are everywhere, and had some good looks at some birds. We spotted some elephant tracks, and then next day we got to see an elephant walk through the lake and enjoy some grass.
Lily on the lake walk.
Our first bat experience was the next morning. We woke up at 0315 and were served coffee and tea at 0330 before bundling up and heading out to the blind at 0400. It was pretty chilly that morning but they gave us blankets for the ride out there, which Lily really appreciated. We got to use the BBC blind. It’s called that because it is the blind the BBC used when they came out to film the bat migration. The blind has two levels, with the highest being at least 40 feet above the ground, near the top of a tall tree into which it is built. This put us right at eye level with the bats returning in the morning.
Bats returning in the morning to their roosts. My camera lens has a scratch right in the middle of it which is distressing.
For both the evening and the morning, the bats start at a trickle and slowly build up to a whole gigantic amount of bats just streaming to or from this patch of forest. When it really reaches its max amount you’re left thinking like, man this is a whole bunch of bats. And then it just keeps going for another 30 minutes or an hour, which bats just going at a constant stream. In the half square kilometer or so of the forest, some 3 million kilograms of bats wind up roosting, which is something like the equivalent of 550 elephants. 550 elephants all flying through the air and then roosting in trees. I am astonished there is enough fruit around to feed them all.
After watching the bats all return to their roosts, we went back to the lodge just in time for breakfast. The morning was spent napping and listening to the hippos grunt in the lake. Not a bad way to spend the day. After lunch and at about 1600, we got ready again to head out for the evening experience. We had more company this time, and we all gathered in a hide at the other side of the forest. This hide wasn’t as tall, but was in the flight path of the bats so we got to watch them all flying overhead and were relatively close to them. I even saw a bat flying with a baby clinging to her belly; that’s gotta be tough flying around with a baby strapped to you.
Bats streaming out to the surrounding forests to feed on fruits.
Again it is just so many bats. Half an hour in you’re thinking “man they gotta be about done” but then they just keep coming. It is quite an experience and if you find yourself in Zambia around November or December quite worth going. After our evening bat experience it was back to the lodge. We decided not to do anything the next morning and had a leisurely breakfast before heading out to the gate to hitch back to our sites. Now that I’ve seen the world’s largest mammal migration, I suppose the second largest one would just be a bit lackluster.