The best bat-spotting destinations around the world
Here's where to get up close to these fascinating creatures of the night.
We travel all over the world to view wildlife and even dive underwater to glimpse the denizens of the deep, so why don’t we seek out bats? Well, bats have something of a poor reputation among humans, who tend to see them as creepy, disease-carrying pests. But truth be told, these flying mammals are actually very important to us. Not only are they prolific pollinators, but they also eat bugs, helping us keep our insect populations under control. Plus, the sight of thousands of them emerging from roosts in huge numbers is impressive.
Here we take a look at some of the best places around the world to experience this incredible exodus of bats.
Congress Avenue Bridge, Texas
Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas holds one of the largest urban bat colonies in the world. Every night during the summer months, hundreds of people gather on the bridge at dusk to watch approximately 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge in great dark ribbons into the purple sky.
There have always been bats living under the bridge. Yet it wasn’t until 1980 when engineers reconstructed it, unwittingly creating the perfect bat hideaways in the crevices, that the bats moved in by the thousands. Despite being one of the city’s greatest tourist attractions, the bats, like others around the world, are under great threat from human persecution, habitat loss and disease. Organizations such as Bat Conservation International work tirelessly to conserve these fascinating and crucially important creatures.
Gan Meir Park, Tel Aviv
In the heart of bustling, cosmopolitan Tel Aviv is a sea of calm. Gan Meir Park is a 7.4-acre space featuring green lawns, enclosed dog parks and children’s play parks. The residents of this Mediterranean metropolis in Israel come here to unwind, enjoy a game of ping-pong or basketball, have a picnic or simply relax by the pond. Yet most park-goers are oblivious to the fact that they share this precious space with a large colony of Egyptian fruit bats.
During the day, the bats are tucked away, camouflaged in the trees in which they roost in vast numbers. As dusk descends, they emerge to forage for plump fruit, spending the dark hours swooping through the skies. If you stand still enough, you may even feel the rush of air created by their two foot-long wingspans as they fly past. Israel is at the forefront of scientific studies on bats, in particular research about how these highly social animals use their sonar to find food. Find a quiet spot in Gan Meir during the day and listen carefully – you might just be able to make out the faint cacophony of bat chatter.
Kasanka National Park, Zambia
Kasanka National Park is Zambia’s smallest wildlife reserve, yet it is home to one of the largest animal migrations on the planet. A patchwork of habitats including woodlands, forests, plains, swamps, rivers and lakes support an abundance of African wildlife, with animals such as elephants, hippos, warthogs, jackals and baboons all represented. Yet it’s the enormous number of straw-colored fruit bats that are the main attraction here.
For about 90 days between late October and mid-December, some 10 million fruit bats swarm from their roosts as the sun begins to set, filling the skies with fluttering clouds of bodies. It is one of the most astonishing wildlife experiences, and the “Bat Forest” as it has become known, can be enjoyed at sunrise and sunset from various viewing platforms. These bats have wingspans of up to 80 centimeters and they consume some 5,000 tons of fruit every night.
In the midst of urban Cairns lives a unique species of bat: the huge spectacled fruit bat, or “flying fox” as it is more commonly known. Classified as a mega-bat, these large mammals can weigh up more than two pounds and have large eyes and long noses. During the day, they can be seen hanging from trees, their great wings wrapped around their bodies. The grounds of Cairns’ attractive library are the best place to see the nightly bat flight as they head off to forage, often traveling up to 25 miles in a single night. Flying foxes are crucial to the pollination of rainforest seeds, in particular eucalyptus trees.
Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysian Borneo
Set in the depths of Malaysian Borneo, Gunung Mulu National Park is a geological wonderland. On the surface, great karst rock formations spire skywards, while beneath the ground lie some of the largest caves on the planet (some big enough to hold an astonishing 40 Boeing 747 airplanes). It is in these caves that 27 different species of bat live in colonies millions strong. As dusk emerges, the bats – in particular the huge colony of wrinkle-lipped bats – erupt from the caves en masse, swirling into the sky before venturing off to forage for food. Guided walks to the mouth of gargantuan Deer Cave are the best way to witness the mass exodus of bats.
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