Cave-dwelling is not much in vogue these days, but it was probably through sharing caves that humans and bats first had a close association. For most people, the idea of living in a cave brings to mind images of pre-historic cave dwellers or Fred Flintstone in the TV cartoon series. But in some parts of the world, caves have offered shelter for certain communities right up to the present day. One such place is Mt Elgon, an extinct volcano on the Kenya Uganda border, where within living memory some of the famous elephant-caves were used as spacious homes by local people, with different areas cordoned off inside for their cattle and goats. The walls of these caves are blackened by generations of cooking fires, but behind the soot you can often see hundreds of smooth furrows forming a random pattern; these are tuskings, formed by salt-hungry elephants gauging the mineral-rich rock with the tips of their tusks. The people, and the bats, of Elgon were living in former elephant salt-mines. Resident humans are now a thing of the past (apart from the occasional field biologist) but the caves remain the focus of activity for much of the area’s wildlife. The best known of these caves – Kitum and Mackingeni - are open to visitors in the Mount Elgon National Park, Kenya and what better time to visit than the Year of the Bat.
Fruit bats play an important role as pollinators of flowering plants, the dispersal and germination of seed and the subsequent establishment of woody vegetation. The Kasanka bats are thought to be particularly important in this regard as the length, duration and direction of their annual movements suggests that they may disperse seeds and nutrients very widely. This has the potential to affect the long-term sustainability of, not only, Central Africa’s forests but also human livelihoods in an area where most people are still dependent on wood, fruit and other forest products. Conservation of the Straw-coloured Fruit Bat is, thus, vital and the Kasanka Trust, responsible for managing the Kasanka National Park, has recognised this and has implemented on-going research and conservation actions on the bat’s behalf. International cooperation, to protect a functional network of roosting and foraging sites throughout their entire migration routes, in needed to ensure fruit-producing woodlands in northern Zambia and the DRC are maintained for generations to come.
News article on the First BCI Summit on African Bat Conservation
Bracken Bat Cave and Caves and Karsts Webcasts by BatsLIVE