In Search of Naked Bats in Thailand’s Deep South

Our destination was Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary to seek and, hopefully, photograph the world’s largest insectivorous bat: the Naked Bat, Cheiromeles torquatus.

Narathiwat Province borders Malaysia.

We were met at the Narathiwat Airport by Pipat Soisook, Curator of Mammals at the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Natural History Museum, and Sunate Karapan, Director of the Hala Bala Research Station.

The research center’s lodging was spacious and comfortable, and we had it all to ourselves, since the usual clientele of researchers were staying away, we were told, due to violence in surrounding areas.

This background about the violence came from the Lonely Planet’s guide to Thailand:  Over 100 years ago, the Kingdom of Siam conquered this area, but an Islamic separatist group wanted to secede from Buddhist Thailand, and independence is still an issue today. Foreigners are not the targets, but can be in danger, as when a market was bombed just prior to our arrival.

The Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary was one of the few places where we could reliably find the rarely seen Naked Bat. It was an exciting place to work, where we could potentially run into a tiger, leopard, sun bear or a King Cobra. In the early morning, we were often serenaded by gibbons while eating breakfast. At mealtime, we had to contend with a pet Great Hornbill named Wang, a bird the size of an eagle who tried to dive-bomb us or rob our food, especially his favorite: roti, a type of flatbread.

Merlin gets a love bite from Wang, the Great Hornbill

Next I’ll tell you about our experiences netting and photographing 18 species of bats, including photos of Naked Bats as well as very cute and tiny Spotted-Winged and Tailless Fruit Bats.

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