After a rather tense drive from Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary through the risky provinces of Thailand’s Deep South on our way to the Narathiwat Airport, we said goodbye and thanks to Daniel Hargreaves for planning and organizing what had been a fantastic field trip. Daniel needed to return home to the UK, but Merlin and I would stay in Thailand for another week to photograph nectar-feeding bats visiting Parkia flowers, among others. The fruit of Parkia is called petai or stink bean. It’s bat pollinated and exceptionally economically important in Southeast Asia.
To help us get these photographs, we would be working with Merlin’s colleague, Dr. Sara Bumrungsri, and his graduate students at Prince of Songkla University, a two-hour drive north of the Narathiwat Airport in the city of Hat Yai.
While working at Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary, we were in the capable hands of one of the Ph.D. candidates at PSU, Pipat Soisook, curator of mammals at the natural history museum on the PSU campus. Pipat had delivered Daniel safely to the Narathiwat Airport and then Merlin and me to our hotel in Hat Yai. Only five months earlier, an insurgent’s bomb had exploded in the adjoining shopping mall, killing and injuring civilians.
At our hotel, we were met by Dr. Sara and Pushpa Raj Acharya, a Ph.D. candidate from Nepal. Pushpa is his country’s first bat biologist. As a matter of fact, before Merlin had left his position as Executive Director of Bat Conservation International, he had organized a special BCI scholarship for Pushpa to study durian pollination by bats. Durian is another extremely economically important fruit in SE Asia.
It seems to me, durian should be called stink fruit. It’s so malodorous that hotels and airplanes ban it. Yet despite its unpleasant smell, durian has a lot of loyal fans. Dr. Sara is one of them. He enthusiastically bought one to share with us. Merlin is the ultimate frugivore and never met a fruit he didn’t like. Durian was a big hit with him, but I’d rather eat stink beans.