The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

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

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