The rediscovery

Bula!

 

Fiji, another one of those places known for its white sandy beaches. Believe me, that is not solely how I choose my travel destinations. Well, it could be, but it’s also (mainly) for the really cool bats that inhabit the islands in the Pacific.

 

The bats of Fiji only number 6 species, of which 3 are endemic. Straight away, I knew two of those would be extremely tricky, even impossible. The first one, the Fijian Free-tailed bat, Chaerephon bregullae, only has one known roost, on Vanua Levu. Access was closed a few years ago to protect this endangered species. The second is the Fiji Monkey-faced Bat, Mirimiri acrodonta. While some of you may remember that species from my target list, I discovered I would not have the opportunity to see it. It took 40 days and a team of researchers to find the species in the cloud forest of Taveuni. While this species isn’t part of the Big Bat Year species list, it is poorly known and in dire need of research. This is one of the projects I would be really interested in working on in the near future, once the Big Bat Year is over.

 

Inside of the cave on Viti Levu, home to a colony of Notopteris macdonaldi

Onto the species I have seen then! Four left, one endemic. The endemic is the Fijian Blossom Bat, Notopteris macdonaldi. The biggest known roost is in a readily accessible cave, on Viti Levu (the main island).

 

I was guided around the cave by the chief of the surrounding villages. His knowledge of the cave was very interesting. I got to learn about their use of the cave in case of cyclones (they get a lot of those), their use of the bats and also, unfortunately, how little they understand them. I also discovered they had their water supply running through the cave. As far as long-term conservation measures go, a complete closure would be a significant problem for the village.

 

The inhabitants of the village hunt those bats, on certain occasions and have a big feast. It is not a casual meal as it is in other places. The chief told me they collected 100-200 bats every year. Estimates of the population are difficult to obtain due to the fact that the bats are high up on the ceiling. The chief’s estimate is “thousands and thousands”, probably endless in his mind. Chances are, this is not sustainable and contributes to a decline of the species.

The chief also thinks that they feed mainly on water and a few insects here and there and has no idea that they pollinate his crops…

Of the remaining three species, only two were believed to be present on Viti Levu, but I got three… The first two are Flying Foxes. Pteropus tonganus can be easily seen in the Presidential compound in Suva. I had a few Pteropus samoensis there as well, keeping their distance.

I saw the latter in its much more typical habitat, the forest above Suva, Colo-I-Suva Forest Park. That place has most of the endemic bird species too. (You can stay at Colo-I-Suva Rainforest Resort: it’s a lovely place to stay and not too expensive.)

I like to keep the best for last… The annoying thing about a website though, is that it’s hard to create suspense when you can simply scroll down. I hope you haven’t though as what I’ve said before is interesting, hopefully.

I still managed to keep it from you a few more seconds though.

Anyway, I have to tell you now. When I visited the cave on Viti Levu, at the other end of the main chamber with the not-so-endless supply of bats, I noticed a few smaller bats, flying high up against the ceiling.

The Presidential Palace in Suva and the trees where the Flying Foxes are roosting

They were quite distinctive from the many Swiftlets flying around too. In fact, the chief told me there were three species of bats in the cave that I understood were Notopteris macdonaldi, White-rumped Swiftlets and Emballonura semicaudata, thought to have been extirpated from the island (last seen in 1979).

 

The Swiftlets were amazing, being one of the few birds capable of echolocation. It’s interesting that they believe this echolocating, cave nesting bird species  to be a bat when many people in Europe think bats are birds! You can’t blame anyone for thinking that an animal echolocating and living in a cave is a bat!

The only local wildlife I got to see during the days of the cyclone
View of the exit of the cave where I saw Notopteris macdonaldi and Emballonura semicaudata
Pteropus tonganus coming back to the roost near the Presidential Palace in Suva
As with all the upcoming reports, if you want to have the exact locations of my sightings, you can visit my sightings page or contact me via the Contact form.

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