Bat Off the Menu

A surprise reunion after 23 years

The hunt was on for a restaurant owner, Chamni Nakninm, in the town of Chang Pran in Central Thailand. He had formerly specialized in fried fruit bat, but he had also been invaluable in helping Merlin understand the bat trade during his 1982 and 1989 visits. Though Chamni was still selling thousands of bats annually in 1989, they remained good friends. Now, 23 years later, we hoped to find him.

The two septuagenarians hoped to meet again someday

Our BatThai guides walked from one restaurant to another, making inquiries. We finally found him at a small convenience store he owns. At 77 he immediately remembered Merlin. We sat down and visited for an hour. He told us he had closed his restaurant and opened  the store three years earlier when all killing and selling of bats was outlawed by the government.

Although the Khao Chong Pran Cave and surrounding area had been protected by a game warden since Merlin’s first visit, bats could still be purchased from nearby areas prior to the new law. Daniel asked Chamni if bats were still sold “off the menu” in some restaurants, but he said no. And yes, he had seen himself frying bats in the CBS television documentary The Secret World of Bats. The new law had forced him to quit serving bats, his restaurant specialty. However, he didn’t  hold any grudges toward Merlin for convincing the community to conserve its bats.