Bats of Indonesia: Part I

The Philippines were a challenge and so was Indonesia. I knew that well before I landed there so I did what every sensible person does when facing a difficult situation, procrastination. Well, technically, I took a break to do some diving in Lembeh strait, possibly one of the best places on earth for underwater macro photography. Lembeh strait is a stretch of water between North Sulawesi and the island of Lembeh. It’s mostly muck and dark sand but also has some incredible coral reefs! It’s mostly known for its incredible critters such as the Pygmy Seahorse, the Lembeh Dragon Pipefish and Flamboyant cuttlefish.

It was an amazing experience, I’d highly recommend it if you like diving, especially if you’re into photographing small critters. If you’re only interested in large animals, this might not be the place for you.

Onto the bats then. Activity around the dive resort was very limited as it was mostly coconut trees. After my stay at the dive resort, I spent a couple of days in Tangkoko, a well known natural park not too far.

I saw some great birds there as well as mammals such as Spectral Tarsiers, Sulawesi Crested Macaque, Sulawesi Bear Cuscus and Sulawesi Dwarf Squirrels. My guide knew of a number of hollow trees we inspected for bats and found Rousettus bidens, R.celebensis, Megaderma spasma and Rhinolophus tatar (a recent split from its New Guinean counterpart, R.euryotis). At night, I recorded a few additional species, including Pipistrellus minahassae, Mosia nigrescens and an unidentified Rhinolophus.

He also took me to the highlands the next day, around Tomohon where we visited a cave. In the cave I recorded one Rhinolophus and one Hipposideros, both still unidentified; lots of Rousettus sp, probably amplexicaudatus; and one Miniopterus fuliginosus.

I also visited the infamous ‘Extreme market’ in Tomohon, and extreme it is. It is a truly sickening sight to see this market full of dogs, bats, pythons, and other wild animals that are being hunted down to extinction at an alarming rate.

Before flying to Ambon to visit the neighbouring island of Seram, I spent one night in Makassar as I wanted to see the Sulawesi Flying Fox, Acerodon celebensis. The species has pretty much be eaten out in the North so the South, mainly Muslim, is their last stronghold. Religion has a strong impact on how the bats are treated as bats are considered unsuitable for consumption by Muslims. As a result, only Christians hunt them. The roost near Makassar is huge and it was a pleasant sight after seeing the horrors done to bats up North. It was also nice to see that those bats were the foundation of a small eco-tourism business, taking tourists on the way to famous waterfalls to see and learn about bats.

The second part of the first half (still following?) of my stay in Indonesia was on Seram. I chose to go to Seram because it has a number of poorly known endemic species of Flying Foxes for which I had reliable information thanks to this publication [insert link]. There is barely any literature on the bats of this part of the world so any paper I could use was more than welcome!

My departure to Seram from Ambon was delayed due to a late flight making me miss the ferry. This meant the schedule was very tight!

Nonetheless, I managed to see and record a whopping 10 species! That includes all four Flying Foxes: Pteropus chrysoproctus, P.melanopogon (visited a colony of those two), P.ocularis and P.temmincki of which I managed to take photographs. I’ve scoured the internet and could not find any photos of it so I believe the photograph below is one of the first, if not the first ever published! With the recorder, I got a number of cool species, including Mosia nigrescens that I had also recorded in the Solomon islands and on Sulawesi but seeing a group of 6-8 bats hunting together at eye-level on a road was lovely. I also recorded Aselliscus tricuspidatus, a really cool Hipposiderid!

Birding was great too as Vinno, my guide helped me see lots of endemic species! As always, because birdwatching isn’t my prime focus, I end up missing lots but I don’t really care because I don’t want this trip to be only about ticking boxes on a checklist. I want to learn about the species I see, and for the bats, I want to contribute to our knowledge.

 

Before flying to Sorong in West Papua, I spent one more night on Ambon where I saw a few P.chrysoproctus, believed to be extinct on the island. Now as to whether or not there is a breeding population there, I couldn’t say but I can definitely say that here, as everywhere, bats are in dire need of more research!

 

Next time on the Big Bat Year, I will be visiting West Papua and Java.

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