Where and when
The bats start to arrive in Zambia’s Kasanka National Park towards the end of October in search of the seed-rich fruits that fill the trees. The number of these giant African bats steadily increases throughout the next few weeks as they traipse over from the Congo, eventually reaching over 8 million bats, all in a space no larger than a hectare.
Each day at dusk they set out to munch on the succulent, colourful fruits that surround them. First the scouts fly out, followed by the entire colony which disperses over a 360 degree radius in search of food. In the morning they tumble into the trees, pushing and shoving, noisily clambering over each other to find a comfy space in which to hang upside down and catch some shut-eye. The area is so densely covered in bats, that it is not uncommon for the branches to snap, sending these bulky, and now bloated from fruit, critters hurtling ungracefully to the ground.
The great bat migration has many factors to it, leading to the bats being one of the most important migratory animals when it comes to regenerating the forests of Africa. It has been found that these amazing bats (Eidolon helvum) can consume nearly twice their bodyweight in fruit per night and when you combine that fact with the sheer number of bats, that’s nearly 6,000 tons of the tasty wild loquat, waterberry and red milkwood eaten. Along their lengthy migration and nightly forages, they spread seeds through their faeces, assisting the growth of the land.
Research has shown that the female bats are either pregnant or nursing pups at the time of the migration, and the abundant fruit in the area helps support the increased energy levels they require.