Farewell Daniel, Hello PSU

bat photography by merlin and daniel
Merlin and Daniel photographing bats in the field

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.

Sara Bumrungsri
Sara Bumrungsri

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.

Pipat Soisook
Pipat Soisook

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.

Pushpa Raj Archarya
Pushpa Raj Archarya

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.

Sara and Merlin enjoying durian outside the university.
Sara and Merlin enjoying durian outside the university.

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.


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The Hala Bala Bat Hall of Fame

Just four nights of photography at Hala Bala yielded photos of 18 species of bats, including the rarely seen Naked Bat, the tiny, cute Tailless and Spotted-Winged Fruit Bats. Here are nine of the beauty queens and runners up:

The Naked Bat (Cheiromeles torquatus)
The Tailless Fruit Bat (Megaerops ecaudatus)
The Spotted-Winged Fruit Bat (Balionycteris maculata)
Trefoil Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus trifoliatus)
Lesser Hairy-winged Bat (Harpiocephalus harpia)
Malayan Free-tailed Bat (Mops mops)
The Malayan Slit-faced Bat (Nycteris tragata)
The Gilded Tube-nosed Bat (Murina rozendaali)
Least Woolly Bat (Kerivoula minuta)



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In Search of Naked Bats in Thailand’s Deep South

Our destination was Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary to seek and, hopefully, photograph the world’s largest insectivorous bat: the Naked Bat, Cheiromeles torquatus.

Narathiwat Province borders Malaysia.

We were met at the Narathiwat Airport by Pipat Soisook, Curator of Mammals at the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Natural History Museum, and Sunate Karapan, Director of the Hala Bala Research Station.

The research center’s lodging was spacious and comfortable, and we had it all to ourselves, since the usual clientele of researchers were staying away, we were told, due to violence in surrounding areas.

This background about the violence came from the Lonely Planet’s guide to Thailand:  Over 100 years ago, the Kingdom of Siam conquered this area, but an Islamic separatist group wanted to secede from Buddhist Thailand, and independence is still an issue today. Foreigners are not the targets, but can be in danger, as when a market was bombed just prior to our arrival.

The Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary was one of the few places where we could reliably find the rarely seen Naked Bat. It was an exciting place to work, where we could potentially run into a tiger, leopard, sun bear or a King Cobra. In the early morning, we were often serenaded by gibbons while eating breakfast. At mealtime, we had to contend with a pet Great Hornbill named Wang, a bird the size of an eagle who tried to dive-bomb us or rob our food, especially his favorite: roti, a type of flatbread.

Merlin gets a love bite from Wang, the Great Hornbill

Next I’ll tell you about our experiences netting and photographing 18 species of bats, including photos of Naked Bats as well as very cute and tiny Spotted-Winged and Tailless Fruit Bats.

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