Daylight has not come to the forest yet. You cannot see them, but you can hear them!
Your group approaches the viewing point on foot and you look into the depleting moonlight where you can see silhouettes of swirling bats with massive wingspans, flooding in vortexes above the trees, their shrieking chirrups piercing the dawn. Your guide then leads you up to a ladder where you ascend high into the tree canopy to view the aerobatics show from above.
Safely stepping onto the platform with a 360 degree view over the mystical Fibwe Forrest, a red tinge of sunrise touching the eastern horizon starts to make the spectacle clearer. Thousands and thousands upon thousands of Straw Coloured Fruit Bats (Eidolon helvum) swarm around you in the surrounding sky. At first it seems as if the trees around you have a textured layer of scales, but you soon realise with the dawning light, that it is actually bats that have already found their roosting spots and covered most trees like scaled armour.
This is Kasanka National Park, located roughly in the centre of Zambia where you can experience this wonder once a year when the Musuku fruits, Uapaca sansibarica with various other fruiting trees, ripen and attract the bats from all over Central Tropical Africa for a fruity feast. Kasanka is not the only place where the Straw Coloured Fruit Bats gather, but it is the best place to view them.
As Kasanka is a National Park, expect to see unusual sightings such as the tip toeing Sitatunga antelope or ghost like elephants crossing a flooded plain on a misty morning. Fluffy Blue Monkeys jumping around in the upper canopy or the little seen Tree Hyrax screaming out its eerie territorial call.
Much research has been done on the mysterious flight paths of the Eidolon bats, and Jakob Fahr from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Radolfzell, Germany) is in the process of analysing their findings from the 30 bats that were tagged during 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 bat migration. Bats made nightly sorties of between 4 and 55 km from the roost site to feed from the same tree every night. The information gathered from this research will be useful for determining the movement ecology, what drives the bats’ daily and seasonal movements and the importance of the bats as seed dispersal for wild fruit.
Visitors can partake in game drives, bush walks, boat trips and canoe trips or just enjoy the view from the beautiful Fibwe hide or Wasa viewing deck.
Kasanka provides various forms of accommodation from rustic camping for the whole family to staying in the Wasa or Luwombwa Lodge with meals and activities provided.
Coined as one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in Africa, if not the world, it is something that every Africa traveller should experience at least once.
In the afternoon your group is again perched on a spectacular site on one of the platforms, situated strategically around the forest perimeter. Watching with sundowners in hand, there is a marked purpose to the bats’ flight and as if a silent command has been given, the flight of the Valkyrie proceeds out of the forest to form millions of specs in the blood red sky.
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