IT takes place in dark, remote locations; it can be damp, uncomfortable and frequently very smelly. But bat-watching is one of the fastest growing segments of the worldwide ecotourism market.
Enthusiasts claim the modern fascination with Chiroptera (literally hand wing’’) is long overdue; bats make up 25 per cent of all mammal species on Earth, variously pollinating plants, devouring agricultural pests and dispersing seeds as they go about their nightly business. However, they are also one of the most misunderstood, maligned and persecuted animals on the planet.
Accordingly, it’s estimated that about 50 per cent of all bat species worldwide are endangered or threatened. As is the case with other feared and reviled beasts, such as crocodiles, wildlifewatching tourism initiatives are helping change this picture.
South Australia: The bat tour at the Naracoorte Caves incorporates a visit to the bat observation centre where a colony of southern bentwing bats can be viewed in non-intrusive fashion via infra-red cameras. Visitors have observed bats giving birth and tending to their young here. www.parks.sa.gov.au.
Queensland: The bat house at the Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station in northern Queensland is a less hi-tech operation. It rescues orphaned flying foxes and encourages visitors to get up close and personal with its resident flying foxes and learn more about other creatures of the rainforest and surrounding environment. www.austrop.org.au.
Overseas: One of the best-known vantage points in the US is the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas. According to Bat Conservation International, up to 1.5 million mexican free-tailed bats, representing the largest urban bat colony in North America, take to the skies in summer. Caves in the Mulu National Park in Sarawak, Malaysia, and the bat houses at Ngwenya Lodge in South Africa’s Kruger National Park also offer superb bat-spotting opportunities. www.batcon.org. Denise Cullen
Wild side: Clockwise from top left, Karst Ridge at Capricorn Caves; a ghost bat; caving at Capricorn; a full-grown crocodile at Koorana; a baby croc emerges from its
Underground adventure: Naracoorte Caves bat tour