The Bat House

Many visitors to Cape Tribulation will leave shaking their heads in amazement after having met one of the more fascinating inhabitants of the rainforest - a flying fox. As rainforest ambassadors, they are unrivalled - friendly, intelligent and definitely with personality plus. They are great show-stoppers and crowd pleasers, and great for getting visitors to start asking questions about the rainforests (as well as losing their fear of bats).

The Bat House is so named because there is always a flying fox in attendance. These primates are mostly orphans, which for one reason or another have been in captivity too long to be allowed to enter the wild, which must usually occur no later than 6 months after birth.
Entrance to the Bat House is by a $4.00 (AU) donation (cheaper than a beer and a lot more interesting!). Proceeds from the Bat House fund the research activities of the Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station, feed the resident fox colony and help the yearly rescue of spectacled flying foxes, orphaned through tick paralysis, in areas of the Atherton Tableland to the west of Cairns. We also sell books, T-shirts, batty stuff and local memorabilia. All Bat House staff are volunteers.

Besides giving visitors the opportunity to meet a flying fox, the Bat House provides environmental and tourist information on the region, and the research activities of the Station are highlighted.

Prior to the Bat House being built in 1991, the land around it had been cleared for grazing and orchards by previous owners. An intensive re-vegetation and replanting effort was put in place and the land is vastly recovered.

The building is a passive solar design, and operating power is provided by a bank of solar collectors on the roof. The toilets are compost systems (Maxi-Rotaloo), which get fairly heavy use as public toilets (no breakdowns) are non-odiferous and use no water.
The Daintree tropical lowland forests, wetlands and shorelines present an inexhaustable array of potential research projects, from the very long term (e.g. plant flowering and fruiting phenology, micrometeorology) to the short term (HPLC analysis of ant gland contents and soil organisms). The Station is well equipped (2 aircon labs, extensive field equipment, HPLC, GC, Gel Electrophoresis, microscopes, histological facilities, and so on). The only limitations are the imagination and capabilities of the researcher.

Previous research has included:
Development of techniques for assisted regeneration of rainforests
Development of appropriate technology for living in the wet tropics (particularly energy conservation)
Productivity, phenology and pollination of cluster figs
Ecology of flying foxes (fruit bats) and their relatives
Conservation biology of flying foxes - particularly development of non-lethal deterrent systems (applied science/electrical engineering)
Rainforest and reef conservation
Chemical analysis of plant and insect materials
Weed control technologies
Plus a variety of projects by researchers inside and outside the Station

Current research includes:
Developing GPS collars for flying foxes
Developing GIS systems to go with this, and for mapping weed outbreaks
Hydrology of the Cape Tribulation basin
Development of instrumentation for various projects (we can use ALL the computer programmers and electronics engineers that might wish to come!)
Analysing the toxins of stinging trees
Recovery of littoral vegetation following removal of exotic weeds
Weed control
Energy use efficiency – especially developing hydrocarbon-based refrigerating systems
Great Barrier Reef work - though close to our heart, this project has been put on hold for the time being because of high water turbidity levels on the fringing reef - largely as a result of prawn trawling (shrimp boats). But even this presents us with some interesting projects, such as mapping coral and seaweed extent on the fringing reef.

There are also a number of tourism-based projects available - mostly conducting surveys of tour operators and tourists, and analysing the responses. We are particularly interested in visitor’s and tour operator’s attitudes relating to the natural environment and conservation.

Bat Conservation in Fiji

The Foundation has been working with Nature Fiji (one of the few conservation organizations in Fiji), since 2010 on conserving Fiji’s bats – both mega bats and micro (insectivorous) bats, which are endangered due to loss of roost sites and excessive cave visitation. This was triggered by a visit to Fiji by Director Hugh Spencer and his friend Monica Bianchi, they visited Wailotua cave and were horrified by the attitude of the locals to the little flying fox, Notopteris, (Fiji’s Blossom bat). The locals thought nothing of throwing stones at the bats in the cave to kill or injure them. AUSTROP funded one of their ex interns, Joanna Malotaux (from Holland) to work on developing community education material, as well as surveying the islands for other bat colonies (as their numbers appeared to be collapsing rapidly) – and for the locals they were regarded as food (even if only for ceremonial occasions). Dr Spencer joined Joanne and Kelera from Nature Fiji over Easter 2012 on a bat hunting expedition.

We are hoping to continue this association in 2014 on.

This is the little ‘blossom bat’

From Joanna’s blog…

Hugh Spencer arrived on Easter Monday, which marked the start of a very intensive period. For those who haven’t heard of him yet, he is the director of the Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station, where I worked at 2 years ago during my travels through Australia. His foundation, the Austrop Foundation, is partly funding my internship here in Fiji. Hugh is a bat expert, and he came over for about two weeks to help me and Kelera out with several bat research techniques. During the first couple days we stayed on Viti Levu, surveying several batcaves, and collecting and assembling equipment for the trip to Taveuni. At the end of the week we departed for Taveuni, to search for the Fiji Flying Fox (Mirimiri acrodonta for the biologists). Taveuni is the third largest island in Fiji, and it is a beautiful place. It has lovely beaches, stunning reefs, scores of birds and a huge area of practically untouched rainforest covering its mountainous interior, with plenty of waterfalls, some even plummeting straight into the ocean. Yes, I’m positively in love with this island.

MiriMiri (Mirimiri acrodonta), this bat Guy Botroff

Anyway, back to business. A little bit of background information: the Fiji flying fox is one of 6 bat species in Fiji, but this is the only endemic species. It occurs only on Taveuni – as far as we know – and it has been captured (or seen) 5 times EVER. Three years ago, an Australian researcher spent 40 nights mist netting for the bat, and she caught only one individual. The Fiji Flying Fox has only been caught on top of Des Voeux Peak, the cloud-capped second highest mountain on Taveuni (1195m). The aim of our project was to see if it might also occur in lower-lying areas. Mistnetting by the way, is a technique for catching bats (or birds) – you suspend a net between two tall poles, or between two trees, you sit down, grab a drink, and wait for the bats to fly into the net.

We were planning to do several nights of mist netting a bit further inland. However, we soon realized that we were not going to reach our objective during the limited time we had – there are barely any roads or tracks leading inland through the dense rainforest, and besides, we did not have the proper equipment, no camping gear, poles were not long enough, no ropes and slingshot, etcetera. Despite the big change of plans, the trip was quite useful. We visited two bat caves, and surveyed the small colonies of the Pacific sheath-tail bat (a small insectivorous species) that roosted there. Kelera and I also got some experience with mist netting, and we got to check out the island and make plans for further research.

And of course it wasn’t just ‘all work and no play’, we took the time to go snorkeling, hiking and swimming at the waterfalls, and the field trips weren’t bad either! We went up all the way to the top of Des Voeux Peak and were blessed with a beautiful view of the entire island – which is really rare, as it is a cloud forest, which pretty much means it’s cloudy most of the time.

Oh, and what I didn’t mention yet about Taveuni… it is the wettest place in Fiji. The village where we were staying receives on average 7 meters of rainfall annually (compare that to about 800 mm annually in the Netherlands!), while up in the mountains it’s more than 10 meters per year! We were fairly lucky that it wasn’t too wet during the first week we were in Taveuni. It often rained at night –not much fun during mist netting, although a bottle of rum makes the long wait in the pouring rain a lot more bearable! At the end of the week the downpour started, and it didn’t stop for 2 days. We estimated we had about half a meter of rain during that time! The roads were blocked and flooded, so we were stuck in the village, which was not such a bad place to be. The lodge we stayed in was located on the beach in the village. 4 hours of electricity a day, no mobile phone signal in the village, except for under a coconut tree about 100 meters further down the beach. For 10 bucks, the local ladies made you a typical local dinner – taro or cassava, fresh fish, taro leaves, all cooked in coconut milk. While it rained and rained and rained we had lots of time to write, think and discuss about the plans for the Fiji Flying Fox, and we drew up a draft research plan for a radiotracking project. Who knows, I might have the chance to come back to Fiji for that some day!


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BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats: The Bat House
The Bat House
BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats
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