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Exploring Thailand, Part 2: Flying Foxes Seek Sanctuary with Monks

“Would you like to have a go with this camera?”

Daniel Hargreaves’ voice pulled my attention away from the Lyle’s flying foxes (Pteropus lylei) I was attempting to photograph. The rest of our group was doing the same, meandering around the grounds of Wat Chanthraram, a Buddhist temple in Ang Thong province that acts as a safe haven for flying foxes. It was early evening and we were losing daylight – a dire predicament for me since I lacked a flash. Shoving some trepidation to the back of my mind, I reaffirmed that Daniel meant me and not some other, more experienced person standing behind me. His camera looked like quite an expensive piece of equipment, something Google would later confirm to my abject and belated terror. I took it gingerly from Daniel’s hands and pointed it skyward. Above me, flying foxes chattered loudly from the trees that dotted the temple courtyard.

This is one of several thousand flying foxes that have found refuge in the Wat Chanthraram Temple yard. Like other flying fox species, Lyle’s flying foxes have declined alarmingly due to over-hunting for human food. However, Buddhist monks provide much needed sanctuary in temple courtyards.

The camera, a Canon R5 with a 100-500mm lens, was heavy in my hands. Looking through the viewfinder, I searched the sky for a subject. Daniel suggested that I start at the top of the treeline across the grounds. Once a flying fox crossed my view, I ought to follow along with it and capture its flight. A few attempts at this confirmed what I had begun to understand that first day in the painted bat village – bat photography is a challenging labor of love. I was rapidly learning first-hand the unique value of MTBC’s Bat Photo Collection, which is available for use by conservationists worldwide through MTBC.

It took a few minutes and some coaching from Daniel, but eventually, I managed to track one of the flying foxes across the open sky. These bats have wingspans of approximately 1 to 1.2 meters (3 to 4 feet), a trait that was on ample display as they streamed overhead. The giant bat I was following flew westward across the grounds and into the fading sunset. I snapped a series of photos, one of which showed its wings splayed wide and its broad, orange collar of fur glowing golden in the setting sun. A reverential feeling came over me as I lowered the camera with shaky arms, a mix of wonder and gratitude unfurling in my chest.

A Lyle's flying fox stretching its impressive wings.
Brynn's photo of a Lyle's flying fox in flight.

Not long afterward, the whole colony took off into the sunset in a loud and lengthy exodus from the temple grounds. Their massive bodies reduced to shrinking specks on the horizon, were pitch black against the pink and orange sky. It was hard not to be mesmerized by the sight paired with the sound of the monks chanting over a loudspeaker in the background. I was entranced, and a glance around the group told me that others were feeling the same.

Without the protection of the Buddhist monks, these moments of awe and admiration might never have materialized. Ranked as a ‘Vulnerable’ species by the IUCN, Lyle’s flying fox populations are estimated to have declined by 30-35% within the last 15 years1. Merlin notes that even greater decline likely occurred in previous years and wonders if sufficient numbers remain to meet the pollination and seed dispersal needs of the many ecologically and economically important plants that rely on them. In addition to habitat loss, these bats are actively hunted for food, and killed by orchardists who often wrongly blame them for crop damage. Buddhist temples like Wat Chanthraram act as refuges. The monks protect the bats, and the bats seem to know it, preferring to roost within the temple courtyards, especially in areas where monks are most vigilant.

Some of the Lyle’s flying foxes roosting in the Wat Chanthraram Temple courtyard.
Click photo above to watch a short video of Lyle's flying foxes at Wat Chanthraram Temple Courtyard. Make sure your sound is turned on!
Merlin taking a photo of roosting bats in the Wat Chanthraram Temple courtyard.
A Lyle's flying fox.
A sleeping Lyle's flying fox.

We made our best efforts to limit our disruptiveness as we navigated the temple grounds. Merlin and Daniel advised us to approach slowly, if we were going to approach at all, and not to chase after bats in the hopes of getting better pictures. The best strategy was to go in slow, pick a good spot to wait, and let the bats come to us. 

Our evening at Wat Chanthraram was akin to a city rush hour, as several thousand large bats departed for a night of foraging. In contrast, the next morning was the picture of idyllic tranquility as we visited a different camp in the village of Bang Pahan. At the temple, we were able to roam freely beneath the roosting bats (for better or for worse given the risk of being urinated/defecated on), but the second camp lay across a river from our vantage point. It was midmorning and so humid that my camera lenses fogged up as soon as I took them out of the bag. The air was thick with a shapeless mist that made the far side of the river appear other-worldly. Spectating from the riverbank, we could see hundreds of Lyle’s flying foxes hanging from towering trees, not unlike giant fruits ready for harvest or a large set of matching Christmas ornaments. We spent a shorter period at this camp, but it was enough for me to get a few nice flight shots and a handful of viciously itchy mosquito bites. Then we were on our way back to Wat Chanthraram.

Wat Chanthraram by day was slightly calmer than at dusk, but only just. The bats were less talkative and there was no loudspeaker in the background, which certainly made for a quieter visit, but the colony was still active as we returned to the courtyard. We spent some downtime at the temple before heading to our next destination, where we’d be trading flying foxes for cave bats in Kanchanaburi.

It had been a short stint with the big, chatty bats, but still a worthwhile stop on our adventure. Barbara Martinek later told me that she’d spent part of that morning reclined beneath one of the trees, taking in the flying foxes as they courted, jockeyed for position, and chattered at one another. It was another small moment of wonder, one of many more to come, and another demonstration of the influence that even simple acts of stewardship can have.

A Lyle’s flying fox mother and pup and an apparent mate.


1. Waldien, D.L. & Tsang, S.M. 2021. Pteropus lylei. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T18734A22082429. Accessed on 23 February 2024.

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Michael Lazari Karapetian

Michael Lazari Karapetian has over twenty years of investment management experience. He has a degree in business management, is a certified NBA agent, and gained early experience as a money manager for the Bank of America where he established model portfolios for high-net-worth clients. In 2003 he founded Lazari Capital Management, Inc. and Lazari Asset Management, Inc.  He is President and CIO of both and manages over a half a billion in assets. In his personal time he champions philanthropic causes. He serves on the board of Moravian College and has a strong affinity for wildlife, both funding and volunteering on behalf of endangered species.