Angkor Wat and Bats

Angkor WatLiterally thousands of temple ruins are near Siem Reap to explore, and at least three days is recommended to see most of them. In one day we visited ten, and were pleased to find bats in most of them.

The complex of temples known as Angkor was built from the 9th to 13th century by successive Khmer rulers, and the mother of them all is the Angkor Wat Temple, the largest (first Hindu, later Buddhist) temple in the world. Between the 12th and 13th century, when London had a mere population of about 50,000, it is estimated that Angkor had 1,000,000, making it the largest city in the world at the time.  They were the people, under successive Khmer kings, who built these massive construction projects on the scale of the Egyptian Pharaohs’ pyramids.

If you’ve ever seen the Angelina Jolie movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, many of the scenes were filmed at Angkor. I join the chorus and recommend you see Angkor Wat before you die!

At nearby Phnom Kulen National Park, we set up a four-panel bat trap over a small stream in the forest for about an hour, and caught five species of bats. (more…)

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Pretoria, South Africa to the Drakensberg Escarpment chasing Cistugo

photoMerlin and I flew from Austin to Houston, Texas last Tuesday the 25th of March, and flew overnight to Frankfurt, Germany,  waited 11 hours in the airport and then caught another overnight flight to Johannesburg, where we were met by colleagues Teresa and Ernest Seamark. After a day of rest at the Seamarks’ home outside of Pretoria, we’re loading up the vehicles with all of our equipment, and we’ll go in search of Lesueur’s wing-gland bat (Cistugo lesueuri) on the Drakensberg Escarpment, where these bats live in cliff-face crevices. We will spend the next week attempting to net and photograph these bats. They are quite difficult to catch with only approximately 30 specimens in museums. We are hopeful that we will catch them, but have our fingers crossed because it is autumn and quite rainy, making it a challenge to catch these bats. It’s mostly open area near a reservoir, so not an easy place to net bats, and these bats are seldom caught, so we’re allowing a week and hoping we can catch one by using a 100-foot long by 26-foot tall mist net. Wish us luck!

Merlin and I are off to the Drakensberg Escarpment with Leon Labuschagne, Teresa and Ernest Seamark to try to catch Cistugo!
Merlin and I are off to the Drakensberg Escarpment with Leon Labuschagne, Teresa and Ernest Seamark to try to catch Cistugo!




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Farewell Daniel, Hello PSU

Merlin and Daniel photographing bats in the field

After a rather tense drive from Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary through the risky provinces of Thailand’s Deep South on our way to the Narathiwat Airport, we said goodbye and thanks to Daniel Hargreaves for planning and organizing what had been a fantastic field trip. Daniel needed to return home to the UK, but Merlin and I would stay in Thailand for another week to photograph nectar-feeding bats visiting Parkia flowers, among others. The fruit of Parkia is called petai or stink bean. It’s bat pollinated and exceptionally economically important in Southeast Asia.

Sara Bumrungsri

To help us get these photographs, we would be working with Merlin’s colleague, Dr. Sara Bumrungsri, and his graduate students at Prince of Songkla University, a two-hour drive north of the Narathiwat Airport in the city of Hat Yai.

Pipat Soisook

While working at Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary, we were in the capable hands of one of the Ph.D. candidates at PSU, Pipat Soisook, curator of mammals at the natural history museum on the PSU  campus. Pipat had delivered Daniel safely to the Narathiwat Airport and then Merlin and me to our hotel in Hat Yai. Only five months earlier, an insurgent’s bomb had exploded in the adjoining shopping mall, killing and injuring civilians.

Pushpa Raj Archarya

At our hotel, we were met by Dr. Sara and Pushpa Raj Acharya, a Ph.D. candidate from Nepal. Pushpa is his country’s first bat biologist. As a matter of fact, before Merlin had left his position as Executive Director of Bat Conservation International, he had organized a special BCI scholarship for Pushpa to study durian pollination by bats. Durian is another extremely economically important fruit in SE Asia.

Sara and Merlin enjoying durian outside the university.

It seems to me, durian should be called stink fruit. It’s so malodorous that hotels and airplanes ban it. Yet despite its unpleasant smell, durian has a lot of loyal fans. Dr. Sara is one of them. He enthusiastically bought one to share with us. Merlin is the ultimate frugivore and never met a fruit he didn’t like. Durian was a big hit with him, but I’d rather eat stink beans.


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