Why am I showing you photos of trees? If you lived in Madang, you would know already. The big mystery is: Where did all our flying foxes (giant fruit bats) go?
These trees should be packed with huge black bats. They are very noisy and crap all over the place, so many people don’t like them. Personally, I’m fond of them, but I don’t have to live under a favorite roosting tree.
Normally, they would leave their daytime roosts in town at about 5:00 in the afternoon, filling the sky with moving black dots. After a suitable time of milling around greeting each other, they would each dip down on the fly for a quick drink of seawater and then fly off to the surrounding jungles to forage – usually on some poor farmer’s banana or papaya trees.
A couple of nights ago, there was a commotion around our house. Eunie asked Charlie, our security guard, what was up. He said that all the flying foxes had left town and people were afraid that (a) an earthquate, (b) a tsunami, (c) a volcanic eruption of Kar Kar Island, or (d) all of the above was eminent. This sort of panic is not out of the ordinary. It is nearly impossible for people here to get current information concerning impending disasters, so they look for signs and omens.
In case you are not familiar with this creature, here is a good photo of the Spectacled Flying Fox. It’s not the same type we have here, but the picture shows the roosting behabior nicely: (note that the photo is not mine)
Eunie and I drove around today to try to find flying foxes. It’s usually not a problem. I would say on the average day (wild guess here) that there are several tens of thousands of them roosting in trees in the greater Madang area. They disappear at night and come back in the morning. Today we saw not even one. I must admit that it made me feel a bit uneasy.
I have asked a few people for their theories concerning the extended absence of our beloved (by some) icons of Madang.
The most interesting one that I have gotten so far came from Maureen Hill – someone who has intimate knowledge of the flying foxes, since a favorite roosting tree hangs over her day school, which she has operated for many years.
Maureen said that people from the Golgol area have reported that the bats are there and for some reason they are very easy to capture or kill. Local folk often eat them. Maureen thinks that there may be some kind of fruit growing there that is making the bats drunk or high. That is what is making them so easy to kill, and possibly keeping them in the area (some people will do anything for a drink). Presumably, when the supply of silly fruit is exhausted, the bats will return.
Just for fun, here is a very unusual roosting place for a flying fox: (again, the photo is not mine -the original photographer is unknown to me)
Maureen also told me that the bats disappear every year for a few days – something that I have never noticed.
Maureen’s theory sounds plausible to me. However, if you have your own theory, please email it to me and I will post it here on Madang – Ples Bilong Me.