Every year around ten million of this bat species migrate to this National Park to feed on the abundant wild fruits filling the trees in the African spring. This spectacle is one of the great mammal migrations to be observed in Africa, and draws tourists from around the world.
This year the bats arrived in Kasanka National Park earlier than usual, says Geraldine Taylor Knowledge Manager for The Kasanka Trust, World Land Trust’s (WLT) partner in Zambia. She tells WLT it isn’t obvious why they have arrived ahead of schedule, “Perhaps it is because we had some early rains, which could have resulted in the fruits ripening earlier than expected. Or it could have been completely unrelated to the Kasanka side of the migration, and have been as a result of something that has happened in central and western Africa where the bats have migrated from, such as a cold spell or less food than usual.”
A spooky reputation
The arching silhouette of a bat has become an emblem for Halloween and the occult. It is believed this has come in part from their nocturnal nature, but also from the way vampire bats have captured the public’s imagination (despite the three vampire bat species making up less than 1 per cent of bat species and only occur in Latin America).
Although in some cultures the bat is a symbol of good fortune, in many it symbolises deception and witchcraft. Although there are no known folklore associated with the migration of the bats to Kasanka, there is a belief in Zambia that if bats are seen flying around someone’s house or field that person has been cursed or is under a spell, a superstition which has survived in urban areas more than rural areas.
An extraordinary species
As one of the largest bats in Africa, the Straw-coloured Fruit Bat is built for stamina rather than speed. They are capable of flying thousands of kilometres each year, so have the furthest recorded migrations of any African mammal, and can fly 80 kilometres per night from their roost to feeding sites.
Their long flights have an important role in the health of the plant populations they feed on, as they distribute seeds from the fruits they have fed upon across a wide distance, allowing tree species to colonise new areas. Geraldine adds that this is an important factor in considering their conservation.
She says “This distribution of seeds may be extremely important for the regeneration of forests in fragmented landscapes. This highlights the importance of these animals for the ecosystem – their conservation is critical, especially in Zambia where the rates of deforestation are amongst the highest in the world.”
WLT’s partner in Zambia, The Kasanka Trust, manages and protects Kasanka National Park and surrounding area in Zambia’s Central Province. WLT supports the Trust’s protection of Kasanka National Park through funding for infrastructure and law enforcement rangers who are supported by the Keepers of the Wild programme.