Locating Pemba Flying Foxes in the Primeval Ngezi Forest

Last night we visited Ngezi Forest for the second time to search for the Pemba Flying Fox roost known to be within the vicinity somewhere.  On the first visit, we failed to locate them in the thick forest and it had also been raining heavily which may have caused them to hide.  Ngezi forest is the largest remaining indigenous forest tract in Pemba and is representative of the type of vegetation that was once thought to cover much of the Island.  It is a majestic place full of tall old trees and a thousand shades of green.  The understory and vines make hiking difficult if you venture off the path – which of course the Flying Foxes do! The forestry ranger at Ngezi prepared in advance for us to find the bats and managed to locate them before hand – he is an expert tracker and knows the forest very well as you could easily get lost without him.  After 40 minutes hiking we located the roost. 

 Inside Ngezi Forest 

 trees-in-ngezi-forest.jpg

Photo J Robinson

In some areas the bats are quite nervous and will take flight at the scent of humans, but here they obviously felt safe enough and protected by the powerful old forest, as they hardly noticed our arrival. They kept their wings wrapped tightly around them as if in sleeping bags. Whereas in most of the graveyards where the bats roost, they chose the tallest emergent trees with the thickest vegetation and often cluster together, in Ngezi they were scattered on low trees with empty branches. The foliage appeared to have been stripped off the branches by continual use and these branches were bent like coat hangers from the weight of the bats. After making a patch count estimate of the bats and admiring some more of the tall trees on the way out we positioned ourselves for a night count. Again our ranger took us to the perfect position to get a great view of the emerging bats.

Pemba Flying Foxes roosting on denuded branches within Ngezi  ngezi-roost.jpg 

Photo C. Farese

Ngezi forest was a hive of activity as night fell, the frogs started calling in their remarkably loud voices, bush babies emerged from their daily hiding places and started bouncing about the trees – possibly bouncing into each other judging by the surprised and angry exclamations they were making!  As the bats started emerging we had to check ourselves for not mixing them up with the silhouetted birds that were also flying at this time. We witnessed one bat make an extremely fast and dramatic dive to avoid a duck – which was a surprise divergence from their usual relaxed, straight and powerful flight. We counted 834 of the flying foxes on this evening, and are approaching a total population count for this vulnerable species.

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