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Bats hanging form the tree

Running Batty for Bats | by Megan Loftie-Eaton

Do you love mangoes, bananas and coffee? You have the bats to thank for that!

They are the unsung heroes of nature, often misunderstood and feared by people, they play a vital role in keeping our ecosystems healthy. From pollination and seed dispersal to keeping insect populations in check, we have bats to thank for all that.

Picture of an African Yellow Ba

African Yellow Bat (c) Megan Loftie-Eaton

Bats around the world play crucial ecological roles that support ecosystem health and human economies. Many bat species consume vast amounts of insects, including some of the most damaging agricultural pests. A single bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquito-sized insects every hour, and each bat usually eats 6,000 to 8,000 insects every night! Some of their favourite prey include crop-destroying moths, cucumber beetles, flies and mosquitos. Natural insect control is their speciality.

Image of a Wahlberg's Epauletted Fruit Bat

Wahlberg’s Epauletted Fruit Bat

Fruit-eating bats pollinate many valuable plants, ensuring the production of fruits that support not just local economies, but diverse animal populations too. We have a lot to be grateful for because of the existence of bats. Fruit bats excrete seeds from the ripe fruit they eat. They do this in flight, often a considerable distance from the parent tree. The seeds, which are packed into their own fertilizer (guano), then grow into new fruit trees, helping to regenerate forests. Some bats also drink nectar from flowers and — like sunbirds, bees, and butterflies — pollinate the flowers. Overall, bats are irreplaceable in sustaining their forest habitats, which would simply disappear without them.

Image of a Mauritian Tomb Bat

Mauritian Tomb Bat (c) Megan Loftie-Eaton

Unfortunately, about 40 percent of bat populations worldwide are in danger of going extinct. Bats are slow at reproducing. Most species give birth to only one pup a year, which means they cannot quickly rebuild their populations. Much of the blame for declining bat populations rests on human shoulders. Bats can be poisoned when they consume insects that have been sprayed with synthetic pesticides. But the biggest problem for the bat population is the loss of natural habitat. Many bats prefer to roost in dead or dying trees under the loose and peeling bark, or in tree cavities. Some prefer to roost in caves or caverns. Populations have dwindled and diversity has suffered without the protection of these important natural roosts.

So, I have decided to run 50 miles for bat conservation and to raise awareness about the importance of bats. I’m batty enough to run the Karkloof 50 Miler on 21 September 2019 in support of bats! But I need your help. I’m raising money for ReWild NPC, a local NGO in Phalaborwa. They do amazing work to rescue and rehabilitate bats, as well as to educate the public on the importance of bats.

ReWild NPC helps wildlife that has been injured or orphaned and, when they are ready, return them to the wild. But they do far more than this! They help with human-bat conflict resolution, they help farmers to use bats to control crop pests, they make bat houses and apply many other bat conservation measures.

Megan training for the 50 Miler

Megan training for the 50 Miler (c) Lowveld Trail Running

Please help me to raise crucial funds for bat conservation and ReWild NPC by donating to my campaign on GivenGain.

If you want to learn more, maybe take this week EcoTraining Quiz.

If you want to do more for wildlife or are just generally interested and want to learn more about our natural world, have a look at the courses we have to offer.

 

Sleeping out under the vast African sky

As part of the EcoTraining Trails Guide Course the students get the opportunity of sleeping out under the vast African sky.

Log smoking

David Batzofin (cc)

With a sleeping bag and a cooler box of food, they get to experience what it is like to be outside in the wild from sunset to sunrise.

While there is the possibility of animals wandering past, the silence of the bush and the vastness of the African sky is what created an immersive experience that was unforgettable.

Camp site

David Batzofin (cc)

Finding a campsite proved to be harder to agree on than actually setting up camp for the night.

After much discussion, a suitable spot was eventually decided on and the task of unpacking the vehicle was dealt with in quick time.

Teapot

David Batzofin (cc)

The first task was the collection of firewood to heat water for coffee and tea.

David Batzofin (cc)

But not just any wood. No, it had to come from places around the site where the use of the wood would not have any impact on the ecosystem.

Sleeping bag

David Batzofin (cc)

Sleeping bags were then laid out and tasks were assigned.

Aagia and guitar

David Batzofin (cc)

The backup guide, Aagia, had brought her guitar along and in the silence of the bush, her chords were clean and sweet, not loud and intrusive, but calming and quieting (Aagia playing guitar). It was now time to start a fire.

starting the fire

David Batzofin (cc)

With the fire roaring in a purposely dug hole, it was time for toasting marshmallows and sharing stories.

dinner time

David Batzofin (cc)

The pasta that the camp kitchen staff had prepared for us was enjoyed with gusto. And the container of biscuits was most welcomed by those on duty in the early hours of the morning.

bush toilet

David Batzofin (cc)

Ever used a bush loo? It’ very simple, find a nice bush with a good view, dig a hole and there you go!

Bush TV

David Batzofin (cc)

The ever-changing flames of the ‘bush TV’ were hypnotic and despite the early hour, we were all ready to creep into our sleeping bags and settle down for the night.

But before the final good nights were exchanged a duty roster was worked out as there had to be someone awake at all times to keep an eye open for animals that might take an interest in our sleeping forms.

There were enough people for us to have to only do an hour each between 21h00 to 05h00.

middle of the night

David Batzofin (cc)

It was soon discovered that all that was required during this on duty time was to keep the fire going and the water in the kettle boiling!

The bush does not sleep and although you might believe it is quiet there is a constant stream of noises that are sometimes difficult to identify.

The lions that walked past our sleeping forms were the easiest to identify. Their guttural vocalizations left no doubt as to whom they were and what they were capable of doing.

The crashing of branches close by signaled the fact that there was at least one feeding elephant in the vicinity.

Warm in our thermal sleeping bags we lay in silence, allowing all these sounds to envelop us without the need for discussion (That would take place over coffee in the morning).

Although the ground was hard and unforgiving, sleep did eventually come. And with it a deep, contented almost childlike sleep.

Morning

David Batzofin (cc)

As the dawn broke and faces began to appear out of bedding it was time to share our impressions about our night and to repack the vehicle before heading off back to camp.

putting out the fire

David Batzofin (cc)

Just as we had set up camp the night before, we had to return it to as pristine a condition as we could before we headed off.

The campfire had to be doused and the ashes scattered.

cleaning the site

David Batzofin (cc)

The wood had to be replaced back into the tree line.

leave no footprints

David Batzofin (cc)

And the area swept with branches to eradicate as much of the traces of our stay as possible.

Personally, I believe that no one who spends a night under the vast African sky can return without a change of some sort.

It might not be a huge ‘Eureka’ moment, but deep in the psyche of each of those present, a change had occurred.

In contrast to our silence during our stay, we drove away in high spirits. Chatting loudly about our experience…and enquiring as to when we could do it again!

A morning drive to awaken your senses

The camp kitchen is a hive of activity as the sun slowly starts to filter through the trees. A warm beverage (or two) before setting off on an early morning game drive is always a must.

After the quick morning coffee and a chat about the game drive plan, you are then off on a new adventure. You never know what the day has in store for you. It’s very exciting.

Julia Wheeler (c)

Selati camp being situated on the banks of the Selati River makes the mornings even more beautiful, with breathtaking sunrises and interesting animals coming to investigate around the water’s edge the possibilities are endless.

Kirsten Scholtz (c)

Kirsten Scholtz (c)

It is always a pleasure to be out on a drive, even if the vehicle seems to be at an impossible angle. In this instance an instructor was driving, but the students each get a turn behind the wheel. They get to know the capabilities of the vehicle and they get to understand how to interact with guests in situations that might arise while on a drive.

David Batzofin (c)

Vultures perched on trees can give away the presence of a carcass, which in turn often signifies the fact that there are predators in the area. These two White backed vultures looked like they had a disagreement.

David Batzofin (c)

A look can say it all. Often when you get close to a lion, even if you are in a vehicle, a low growl will warn you of their mood.

David Batzofin (c)

Could this be a Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticose)?

Every drive is a learning opportunity for the students. Be it an animal, bird, insect or plant species. Questions are asked by the instructors to make certain that every safari drive it utilized to the fullest.

David Batzofin (c)

This is one of the Kingfisher species that does not eat fish. Instead it preys on insects like grasshoppers and locusts. They have been known to catch and eat lizards.

There is also a recorded case of one seen eating a bat! Of the 10 Kingfisher species found in South Africa, only 4 have a fish based diet.

David Batzofin (c)

The students make time for a sundowner break on the viewing deck perched high above the vast bushveld that stretched out towards the horizon.

David Batzofin (c)

There is no better way to end a day in Africa. Our sunsets are spectacular and will creep into the hearts and souls of students, both local and International.