Large flying foxes are always difficult to photograph, especially since they’re intensively hunted over their range. But in Thailand there are still several colonies of Lyle’s flying foxes (Pteropus lylei) that are protected by Buddhist monks. The bats have learned that they are safe when close to the monks’ quarters. And by also remaining close to the monks’ quarters we were able to photograph them much closer than usual, though it still required a great deal of searching for just the right individuals.
Once found, it sometimes took hours to get exactly the right shot. In fact, Merlin and I and our Thai guide P’Kwang had to wait three hours before one of the pups looked up from its mother, enabling Merlin to take an extra cute photo. Due to bright light from above, P’Kwang had to hold a black cape over Merlin’s head so he could see the LCD screen on the camera.
These bats and other large flying fox species were abundant a hundred years ago and played a key role in seed dispersal for trees like the Neem seen in two of these photographs. It is valued for medicinal and pest repellent properties. Unfortunately, very few flying foxes remain in Thailand , and their invaluable services have been largely lost. Thanks to the monks, visitors to Thailand can still enjoy viewing a few of these magnificent animals.