Monday, April 7, 2014


Gabriele Asare, posted on YouTube

Like many other West African cities, Monrovia is beset with large colonies of bats, when not hanging over the city from the ruins of stately Cotton trees, they swarm the skies like a plague of locusts. There are about five or so such trees in central Monrovia, broad and ancient, that rise above the rooflines of the oldest parts of town.

Denuded and presumably dead, they are enlivened by the diabolical presence of hundreds and thousands of flying mammals. Once, while driving up Snapper Hill to the Ducor Hotel, I passed one of these great dead oaks, its countless inhabitants clinging under each huge limb like dried fruit, while a few diurnal specimens flittered about. A single bat, ready for a nap, landed upside-down on a branch. It was the straw that broke the camel's back in real life: the weight of that one small flying-mouse was too much; the great old bough came crashing down as if struck by lightning: thunder clap and all. Dazed creatures, panicked by the pruning and blinded by the afternoon sun, flew chaotically in all directions: some directly into the ground, some into a chain-link fence where they became entangled. Within moments, a price had been put on a bar, and I am told by a friend who lived nearby that bat soup was the weekly special.

Even absent such a spectacular event, these tree-colonies are remarkable scenes though they are in many ways unsettling. The nearest image to the hive of half-frenetic, half-febrile activity would be vultures on a carcass, yet a carcass would never have so many ravenous attackers. When frenzy hits these nocturnal clans, the sky darkens a shade, the already-brief evening hour hastily blotted out with each small pair of slightly-translucent stretched-skin wings. The Wingéd Monkeys, lifting off to the shrill commands of the Wicked Witch of the West, come to mind.

This threatening aspect has grown with the swelling of the Ebola panic which has swept into town and onto the headlines of the newspapers. A popular fact shared among acquaintances is that fruit bats are the carriers of the virus, and Guinea has gone so far as to ban the eating of bats. So it is not too far from the mind to think of the immune risk when the sky darkens with the flittering, furry beasts, carrying death from afar. A report from Abidjan, from earlier in the month, chronicled just this wariness, of wrath of sky-borne couriers of the fever. Even before all the attention given to their presence due to the virus, they were seen as pests to eradicated. Both the U.S. Embassy and at times the local government have chopped down trees hosting bats.

Laurent Guilard posted in the Daily Motion

Despite lending themselves so excellently to be wicked omens of doom, the chattering communities of bats are an amazing site in the middle of the the concrete jungles of urban West Africa. I hope they remain overhead.

1 comment:

AfriBats said...

Would you add your bat photos as a citizen-science observation to the AfriBats project on iNaturalist?:

AfriBats will use your observations to better understand bat distributions and help protect bats in Africa.

Please locate your picture on the map as precisely as possible to maximise the scientific value of your records.

Many thanks!

PS: these are straw-coloured fruit bats (Eidolon helvum)

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