The Guano Miner’s Daughter

Push starting the Batmobile out of Khao Chong  Pran

The Batmobile had to be “pushed” out of the parking lot of Khao Chong Pran. Dead battery. Once on the road again with a new battery, we were in search of another cave.

In January 1984, Merlin had written an article for the Smithsonian magazine about his trip to Thailand entitled “Harmless, highly beneficial, bats still get a bum rap.” In it he stated: “more than a million bats support an entire village of guano miners, but are about to be destroyed by an expanding limestone quarry. Some species might actually become extinct before they are discovered.” Thai conservationists, with Merlin’s help, got the quarry mining stopped in time to save the colony. On this trip, 30 years later, he wanted to check on the cave and see how the bats and villagers were doing.

The cave used to be near a military base. Now it was actually inside the base. P’Kwang, one of our BatThai guides, told the guard at the entrance we wished to go into Rakang Cave. The guard said we needed to get permission in advance to get into the cave and that it could take up to two weeks!

We drove past the quarry that Merlin remembered, and on to a nearby temple where we asked a   monk the whereabouts of the guano miners. He said the miners would not be working since it was a holiday.

We thought we’d try again with the guard at the entrance to the base, and as we approached we were excited to see a long line of cars going through the gate. We just,got in line and followed the others.  Now we had to find the cave, so we stopped at the golf course. P’Kwang spoke to some golfers, one of whom was a general, and he gave us permission to enter the cav e which was right across the road. What luck!

The cave’s entrance was as Merlin remembered. The ceiling was close to 70 feet high, and that’s where the bats were safely roosting. Daniel decided to climb a rickety, bamboo ladder used by the guano miners. One ladder was lashed to another up the cave wall toward the high ceiling. When he had climbed to the end of the third ladder, he saw a small group of bats roosting overhead and carefully stretched out with his long-handled net, catching two bats.

Daniel Hargreaves climbing toward the ceiling of Rakang Cave
Wrinkle-lipped Bat (Tadarida plicata)

Covered with bat sh*t, Daniel made it safely down the roach-covered ladder with the bats for Merlin to photograph.

As we exited the cave, got into the Batmobile and headed for Bangkok, Pongsanant, our BatThai guide and interpreter, was talking to a woman who had just arrived on a motorbike to mine guano. When he asked her if she knew of a man named Siri, she smiled and told him that he was her father. He was now 96 years old, but still in good health. She offered to take us to see him right away. When we arrived, his 81-year-old wife remembered Merlin’s having photographed her at the cave.

In the next blog I’ll tell you about the serendipitous visit with the guano mining family.