Entering Bangazi Gate at the Eastern shores of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, we were on a mission to find Bat’s Cave a few kilometers along the beach from Mission Rocks. We checked the time at which low tide would occur the previous day as the cave can only be reached during low tide. Cooler box packed… check. Hiking shoes on… checked. Sunscreen lotion in bag… check. We were not sure if we were going to find the cave (from previous experience trying to find sea turtles). Nevertheless, we were excited. Just the fact that there was something beyond the rocks and we were on an expedition into the unknown was exhilarating in itself. We were on a Bats’ Cave Adventure.
Arriving at Mission Rocks was frustrating as it was Easter weekend and the park was full. I have never seen Mission Rocks so busy. Cars everywhere and people sunbathing on the rocks. Weird. Anyway, we made our way over the rocks going North and onto one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Almost untouched. Just a few fishermen fishing in the distance. Almost no footprints in the sand. No cellphone signal. It was beautiful. People told us to walk up about 3 kilometers. So we walked.
After walking for about 2.5 kilometers, we found Perriers Rock. Beautiful rock formations along the beach. We could hear the bats screeching in the distance. Following the sound, we found the cave. A small cave full of Egyptian fruit bats that have been living there for generations. One of the last few nesting colonies in South Africa. There were literally hundreds of fruit bats hanging from the cave’s ceiling and a few flying around inside the cave. Was it as we expected? Yes. A little smaller, but just as special as I thought.
About the Egyptian Fruit bat
Going to the cave I didn’t know what to expect, what type of bat we are going to find… In fact, I didn’t know anything about bats. I know they fly around at night, they use echolocation to find their way and that they cannot see very well. So this exercise has been quite educational.
Their scientific name is Rousettus Aegyptiacus or more commonly known as Egyptian Rousette. The name derived from a specimen from the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. The bats have a fox-like face, large eyes, large naked ears and a short tail. Their fur is sleek and a grayish- to dark brown colour with a lighter belly (Wildscreen Arkive, 2015?). Egyptian fruit bats belong to one of 2 major bat groups, namely Megabats. These types of bats are larger in size and they don’t use echolocation to get around, but rather their large eyes to see in the dark (Yong, 2014). What makes Egyptian fruit bats so special is that these bats are the only Megabats that use sonar to assist in navigation. They click their tongues to echolocate (Yong, 2014).
Because of their fox-like appearance, these bats are often referred to as “flying foxes”.
Egyptian fruit bats are 11 to 19cm in length, weigh 81 to 171g and have a wingspan of up to 60cm. These bats are frugivorous, which means that they eat a variety of soft ripe fruits, buds, young leaves, pollen and nectar. They are nocturnal, flying out at night to feed. When food such as a fruit tree is located with their excellent sense of smell and eyesight, the Egyptian fruit bats will circle it first before grasping onto the branches. Fruit will be eaten immediately or stored in special cheek pouches to be eaten later (Rosamond Gifford Zoo, 2006).
Egyptian fruit bats roost in caves in small to large colonies ranging from 2 to 2 000 bats (Lubee Bat Conservancy, 2015?), which make them one of the largest animal groupings in the world.
Maturity is reached at around 9 months of age and each female produce 1 baby per year. The baby is carried by its mother until it can hang from the roost on its own, usually about 6 weeks of age. At this stage, the baby is left hanging by itself while the mother is out looking for food. After around 3 months of age, the baby is able to look for its own food. Offspring stay in the same colony as their parents for the rest of their lives (iNaturalist.org, 2012).
Egyptian fruit bats are ecologically important as they are pollinators of a variety of plant species and trees. The Baobab tree almost exclusively rely on fruit bats to pollinate its flowers (iNaturalist, 2012). The danger for Egyptian fruit bats though is that they also consume fruit crops intended for human consumption and are therefore often poisoned by farmers.
Please take special care when visiting the bat cave, not entering the cave and not touching the bats or their waste products.
Studies suggest that Egyptian fruit bats are hosts of the Marburg virus and that it could spill over to humans (Jones, Schuh, Amman, Sealy, Zaki, Nichol and Towner, 2015). Please take special care when visiting the bat cave, not entering the cave and not touching the bats or their waste products. I knew bats carry diseases, but I did not know this when we were visiting the bat cave. I was quite paranoid when I realized that I climbed onto the rocks to get a better photo of the bats, touching rocks that could be contaminated with the Marburg virus. Please be careful. A better photo is not worth an incurable Ebola-like disease.
iNaturalist. 2012. Egyptian Rousette (Rousettus aegyptiacus). http://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/75042-Rousettus-aegyptiacus
Jones, M.E.B., Schuh, A.J., Amman, B.R., Sealy, T.K., Zaki, S.R., Nichol S.T. & Towner, J.S. 2015. Experimental Inoculation of Egyptian Rousette Bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) with Viruses of the Ebolavirus and Marburgvirus Genera. Viruses, 7, 3420-3442.
Lubee Bat Conservancy. 2015?. Egyptian Fruit Bat. http://lubee.org/bats/our-bats/egyptian-fruit-bat/
Wildscreen Arkive. 2015?. Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus). http://www.arkive.org/egyptian-fruit-bat/rousettus-aegyptiacus/
Yong, E. 2014. Fruit bats have sonar too (but it’s not very good). http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2014/12/04/fruit-bats-have-sonar-too-but-its-not-very-good/
Rosamond Gifford Zoo. 2006. Egyptian Fruit Bat. http://www.rosamondgiffordzoo.org/assets/uploads/animals/pdf/EgyptianFruitBat.pdf
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