It is almost time; quick or we will miss the bats!’ came the cry from the lawn as we grabbed our drinks and headed for the river.
True to form, on the dot of ten to seven, just like every day for the past few months, bats started to come out of their daily resting site in the trunk of an old fig tree and head south down the river. We watched as one or two of the first pioneers turned into a steady trickle and then ultimately, what looked like a waterfall of treacle, cascaded out of the hole. The bats seemed to launch out, drop a few feet and then open their wings to regain height and fly off together towards the wetlands.
Not being experts on bats by any means, we hypothesised as to whether they were fruit bats, preferred to eat insects or were possibly even ‘vampires’ as our son Taru seemed to like to imagine. What we did know was that they somehow knew how to keep very accurate time, and that our bedtime was their day time. Sometime during the night when they had done everything that they had set out to do, they would all find their way back to the same hole in the same tree at the same place along the river to rest as we swam and splashed around beneath.
Aside from holes in trees, the children had also learned that some bats loved hanging upside down in any roof they can find. They had seen them in the tall thatched roofs of the nearby research centre, in the schools and local shops. Here they were not so welcome as they tended to leave their droppings all over the floor or on unfortunate visitors who may have lingered around too long. Around the camp are also the aptly named yellow-winged bats that tend to live more solitary lives, and are seen more in the daytime, the sun shining through their beautiful yellow wings as they flit about in the trees.
Knowing bats in this setting it was with some amazement that, while on a short trip back to Nairobi, we happened across our first neighbourhood Halloween party. The children were surprised to see bats as a common theme, but were equally surprised by the other, in many ways disturbing, symbols of skulls, cauldrons and ghosts. Most questions were quickly replaced by the fun of buckets full of sweets and treats, of which no questions were asked I noticed.
Returning to camp we were saddened to find out, as we sat down to watch the daily bat show, that the bats had moved on. Where to or why, or whether they will be back are questions yet to be answered, but it has taught us how little we really know about the diverse and fascinating natural world around us.
Samantha du Toit is a wildlife conservationist, working with SORALO, a Maasai land trust.
She lives with her husband, Johann, and their two children at Shompole Wilderness, a tented camp in the Shompole Conservancy