Bat Behaviour – A Day in the Life of My Little Furry Friend

After a rather long gestation period of five to six months, Indian Flying Foxes, the only native mammals in the Maldives, give birth to single pups in May and June. The little youngsters tightly hold on to their mums, as the latter search for food in the trees, and get carried around until they become too heavy, at about one month of age. From that time onwards the mothers start leaving their offspring in the roosts for increasingly longer time periods and return to the pups to feed them with milk, to toilet and caress them. I have noticed particularly during this summer that, while the juveniles hang motherless in the trees, they often get harassed by crows that peck at them and scare them so much that the little bats eventually let go of their secure grip and fall off the tree. This, I reckon, could actually be the main reason why so many flying fox pups get separated from their mothers and why we have continuously found little “orphaned” bats in past summers. This season alone I have rescued four juveniles and reunited them with their mums by giving them a little milk boost for the night and by hanging them up on higher branches. One baby, however, was not so fortunate. It was found by our gardeners, crawling on the road, no mother in sight, doomed without help. Our head gardener Ali then adopted it and fed it with fruits for two weeks before he informed me he had a bat. On 8 August 2010, the little furry winged animal, estimated to be about six weeks old, and I were introduced to each other – and it was love at first sight.

Due to previous bat adoptions and the research I conducted about flying fox biology, I now feel quite confident about raising young flying foxes. Just like other mammalian babies, what they mainly need is warmth, milk and tender care. Unless they can fly, which they only start at an age of three to four months, flying foxes have no access to fruits (their regular diet during adult life) and only their mother’s milk as food. As I can’t milk some mother bat, I need to make do with full cow’s milk, which I dilute with a bit of mango or guava juice to make it tastier for the choosy fruit-eater. I feed the little one with a syringe every three to four hours and increase the rations every day. In between it gets soft pieces of banana, papaya or melon, which it chews on to extract the juice. The pulp it spits out. As its second set of sharp teeth get stronger, it also likes scraping off pieces of apple and seriously working through chunks of other fruits. I always stimulate good digestion by rubbing its belly and eventually get treated with a bat that turns upside down, hanging on its thumbs, to urinate and defecate on my floor (seldom shirt) as can be seen on the photo above. It is hilarious to look into its big moist eyes and to hear its crackling noises during the process… During the day my little flying fox has its quiet times when I can just hang it from my shoulder or onto some branches to sleep; however, it can also put on a real show when completely content, scurrying about, flapping his wings to train his flight muscles, exploring his world a little bit more every day, and patiently allowing me to explain bat biology and anatomy to inquisitive guests, for who this little flying fox is a true highlight of their vacation. I take it with me on my bicycle, it sleeps on my shoulder while I sit on the computer, and when I am busy with other things, I leave him hanging on some branches. A “pet” very easy to handle! During the night the little fox sleeps on a coat hanger in my bathroom, nicely wrapped up in his wings with his head tucked under and the tip of the tongue sticking out. There will come a time very soon, though, when I will keep it outside more regularly, so that it becomes more independent and gets to know the real life in the jungle, with all its smells and sounds and shadows. The re-introduction into the wild will still take a few more months, however, as the bat wouldn’t be able to survive without my feeding and warmth and still hasn’t learned to find fruits and shelter on its own. I sincerely hope that this story ends happily and we will have provided a good start into a (literally) fruitful flying fox life!

By the way, it’s a boy, as can be clearly seen in real life. After many weeks of guests asking about and suggesting names, it seems we have now settled with Robin, even though I continue calling him all sorts of affectionate and ridiculous German names. The three pictures above were taken by visiting photographers Antonina Gern as well as by Kyu Furumi.

Maldives Underwater #2 – Cruising around the Southern Atolls and Discovering New Reefs

A similarly titled blog entry about 12 months ago ended with my wishful thinking of possibly being able to dive in the Maldives’ southern atolls one day. Well, as so many other travel dreams in the last few years, it came true! Thanks to dive colleague Jörg’s well-planned dive schedule and my boss Laurie’s generosity of letting me take leave before the busy Easter holidays, I was able to sign up for a two-week cruise from Addu in the south to Male’ in the centre of the archipelago.

Once again, Jörg had rented the comfortable “MY Mariana”. All the rooms were booked and occupied, which was great for Jörg’s business and fine with me too, even though it meant that I had to camp on the deck just like the year before. A much better choice than sleeping in an air-conditioned cabin anyway! Every evening I would pitch my bed before the eyes of my dive companions, who I would chill out with until my eyes became heavy, and then enjoy a few pages of the excellent book “Eat Pray Love”, the quietude of the Maldivian night and the sea breeze. Sometimes, however, there was no breeze at all, and it became a sweaty night. We were just so lucky with the weather during the entire cruise, though: not a day of rain, and no waves or swells even in completely open ocean! Very good for the sensitive stomachs on the safari boat! Those same stomachs were regularly and generously filled by the Maldivian crew as well as Rattana, Jörg’s partner, who helped prepare excellent Thai cuisine. Thanks to the bacon and cheese that our caring diving guests had brought from Germany, Switzerland and Luxemburg, I enjoyed wonderful breakfasts and evening snacks that I had been missing here at the resort for so long! What I also immensely enjoyed was the relaxed atmosphere on the boat. I got used to the rhythm of diving, eating, resting – all of them three times a day – very quickly and therefore completely regained my mental and physical strength during this holiday. Scrabble, Yatzee and Bubble Breaker games, Jörg’s constant teasing and reading and snoozing sessions worked perfectly as entertainment!

Our dive trip started in Addu Atoll, south of the equator, on 22 March once all 14 guests had come onboard the ship. We began at a dive site that was familiar to me: the “British Loyalty” wreck, which was still leaking oil from its tanks and which was still inhabited by beautiful table corals and a pink Leaf Scorpionfish. This was also the test site for my new underwater camera, a Canon Powershot G11, which was a last-minute buy in Male’ after my little Lumix camera had broken down the day before I was flying down to Addu. That it worked very well can be verified when clicking on the photo link on the right. Most other dives during the cruise took place in the channels and along the eastern outer reefs of the southern atolls. I was particularly pleased about these arrangements, since we don’t have the same opportunities in Baa Atoll. The most stunning and unusual location of all was probably the shelf off Fuvahmulaku in the middle of open ocean that is not commonly dived and that represents a migratory stop for Giant Manta Rays, Grey and Silvertip Reef Sharks. I missed the Tiger Sharks in 40+ m depth, though, that were attracted by Jörg’s bottle-crackling. The Giant Mantas got me very excited, since they were recently described as a new species and not much is known about their biology yet. I took lots of photos for my manta researcher friend Guy Stevens. Other current-swept atoll channels in the south also boasted sharks, eagle and sting rays, barracudas and big snapper shoals, which once again made me realise what marine life healthy seas should contain and how many species have already become decimated in the more populated areas of the Indian Ocean. We also dived in lovely coral gardens in more sheltered corners, of which the large Huvadhoo Atoll was outstanding. The coral cover in some areas must have been close to 100 %; the species diversity most probably also exceeded that found in other Maldivian atolls. As a biologist, I really appreciated being able to see all these different locations in order to understand spatial variations, to see unique species with Jörg’s help and thereby to share my knowledge with guests and journalists at Soneva Fushi.

While stopping over at Fuvamulaku in the south, all diving guests had the chance to set foot on the island for some sightseeing – another familiar place for me, as last year I had already spent three nights on this largest Maldivian island. I was particularly happy about the fact that my friends on Fuvamulaku, Wasyf, Mausooma and Riuman, took the time to meet me again and catch up with the happenings of the previous year. Riuman especially had big news, as she had been elected to attend the youth climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 as one of only four 12-year-old students in the Maldives. I was very proud of her achievement and her interest in environmental issues. In her own beautiful way, she told and showed me everything about her week in Europe, and I couldn’t help thinking that with smart children like her, there is still hope for the future of the Maldives. It is up to them to prevent environmental destruction in their country, to bring about change to old habits and to empower other Maldivians to protect their islands.

All in all, my two-week dive cruise had been super both over and under water, and I am happy to share with all “critics” that it is worthwhile to go on a Maldivian holiday even if you already work on one of the islands. There is so much more to discover, and the relaxation comes automatically when you have the sun, sea and different people around you.

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