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The fascination of our great allies, bats

Bats provide key eco-system services such as pollination for our crops.

Since the pandemic, bats aren’t on everyone’s to-do list and the mention of a Horseshoe bat might conjure up images of a Wuhan or CIA lab or a cheesy vampire movie. But not everyone remembers how crucial bats are to agriculture and indigenous forest conservation, or that we have our own endemic Horseshoe bat here in the Lowveld.

Cohen’s Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus cohenae) was first discovered by Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency scientist Lientjie Cohen in 2004 in the Barberton Mountainlands Nature Reserve. Isolated colonies exist at Sudwala and in a remote part of the Kruger Park.

Cohen’s Horseshoe bats have the lowest call peak frequency of the five Rhinolophus species discovered in East and southern Africa this century. They are only found in Mpumalanga.

Wahlberg’s epauletted fruit bat
Photo: Ema Balona.

Bats are nature’s perfect pest patrol and are the ultimate mosquito and bug repellent, each eating up to over 600 insects in an hour. That’s the equivalent of an average-sized person eating 20 pizzas in a night.

Bats provide key ecosystem services such as pollination for our agricultural sectors, as well as for vitally important trees such as some Baobab species and certain fruit species like mangoes and bananas. Along with bees, they are our most important natural ally in pollen and seed dispersal.

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A bat’s echolocation is so fine-tuned that it can detect objects as thin as a human hair. Their pups are nursed on mother’s milk, like all mammals, but unlike all other mammals, they will lift off the Earth’s surface and fly into the air at the age of just one month. They are the world’s only flying mammals, except for us, but they don’t need to burn an ounce of coal or oil to know the freedom of flight.

Cape roof bat
Photo: Trevor Morgan

Ironically, In Chinese and Japanese mythologies, bats were always seen as symbols of happiness and even good fortune.

The anticoagulation agent in Vampire bat spit has been used to treat human heart and stroke patients. Although this much maligned species is not found in Mpumalanga, who knows what miracle cures our own species of bats might hold in future?

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Far from being a threat to humans, bats are crucially important to our immediate survival. Understanding them better may help stop erroneously transferring the blame for the pandemic onto these remarkable flying mammals.

So if you’re short of something to do over the holidays, build a bat box. There are a number of online sites to show you how.

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