Secretly terrified, thinking the likelihood of being eaten alive by a bunch of bats was definitely in the ball park of 11/10, I had arranged to go bat monitoring with Doug Mills at Bungonia National Park, NSW.
Doug works for the National Parks and Wildlife Services monitoring the population of Eastern-Bentwing Bats from the entrance to a popular recreational cave in Bungonia National Park and another at Wee Jasper Caves. The Eastern-Bentwing Bat is found in caves along the east and north-west coasts of Australia; the caves monitored by Doug are both essential maternity and roosting caves to the species, however may be under threat due to access to the public for the use of recreational caving. The cave was closed to the public however at the time I went monitoring and continues to be for the breeding season.
It was a Wednesday afternoon, I packed my sleeping mat (prepared for the piles of supposed bat poop), my head torch, extra rations of food (in case the situation arose where we were chased by the bats until a refuge amongst the wilderness arose and it was too far to walk back to the car until morning when the bats would go back to the caves) and a drink bottle (for similar reasons). My friend (Tim) and I were picked up by Doug around 2pm and we asked questions of Doug’s fabulous life working in National Parks until we picked up Doug’s mate (who also works with National Parks and regularly goes with Doug to monitor the bat populations). We stopped for some pizza for dinner and I began questioning my reasoning to bring extra rations of food (until we started the walk down to the cave and the slight sense of paranoia kicked in, confirming my reasoning for the rations I had had in the beginning).
The first bat flew out and I panicked (however internally, as my aim was to act professional and keep my cool in front of Doug- a bat expert, and my friend who seemed to be in a whole other state of mind). After following this bat for a good couple of minutes realising that the likelihood of being eaten alive was actually more like 1/infinity I began to relax in the realisation that I was about to experience something spectacular. Which I did.
As Doug captured photos of the species using infrared technology and a pre-military missile tracking device, I sat in or awe as thousands of bats flew over our heads (the curious ones just missing our faces; feeling a stream of air brush past your cheek).
I learnt more this night than the process of capturing the population density of a species of bat; in that one moment where after looking up as the light of the flash illuminated the thousands of bats flying over-head, came the consciousness that sometimes it’s the things that seem scariest in life that end up turning out to be some of the most magnificent; in terms of approaching the complexities of biodiversity conservation and environmental sustainability, the small details or individual actors which/who seem insignificant, when placed together can combine to make a significant whole.
And that a sleeping mat in preparation of piles of bat poop isn’t as necessary as I originally assumed.
– A special thanks to Doug Mills for allowing me to join him on this trip