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.

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