The iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site is home to a remarkable number of recorded bat species, with at least 28 documented to date.
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Two different species are found in the caves just north of Mission Rocks along the Eastern Shores of iSimangaliso.
Xander Combrink, now Senior Lecturer in Nature Conservation at the Tshwane University of Technology, worked for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Scientific Services for 13 years in iSimangaliso. He revealed some interesting facts about bat species that are found in the Park.
The Egyptian Fruit Bat
The most common bat species found in the well-known Mission Rocks bat cave is the Egyptian Fruit Bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus). The abundance in bat cave seems to vary greatly between seasons (5000 have been estimated in winter decreasing to less than 300 in summer) due to their migratory movements to caves in the Tzaneen area of Limpopo for the summer breeding season. Interestingly, this is the only of the four species of fruit bats in South Africa that echolocate (repetitive calls while flying and listening to the returning echoes to build up a “sound” map of their surroundings) by tongue clicks.
The Natal Long-fingered Bat
Just south of the Mission Rocks bat cave is another cave system with a smaller entrance that is occupied by Natal Long-fingered Bats (Miniopterus natalensis). This species was previously included as a subspecies of Schreibers Long-fingered Bat. Unlike the Egyptian Fruit Bat, this species is insect eating and congregates in far greater numbers (with over 200 000 bats recorded in a cave at De Hoop near Bredasdorp in the Western Cape). Scientists estimated that there were over 40 000 bats in this cave during the winter of 2003. Like the Egyptian Fruit Bat they also migrate between winter hibernacula and summer maternity roosts, where females gives birth to a single young. This species holds the longevity record for a southern Africa bat of 13 years.
The Short-eared Trident Bat
And it’s not only Mission Rocks that can boast bat populations. The Short-eared Trident Bat (Cloeotis percivali) was recorded in uMkhuze in July 2007. This species is listed 2016 SA Red Data Mammal Book as Endangered, highlighting the importance of protected areas such as iSimangaliso for the conservation of bat species in South Africa.
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Did you know bats are the only mammals that can truly fly? Other mammals like flying squirrels, possums or lemurs, can glide but not fly.
Words Fiona McIntosh