We spent three days at the Meletse Bat Research & Training Center in the Meletse Mountain Valley at a very nice facility owned by Aquila Steel South Africa. This company also owns the nearby Gatkop Cave, home to one of South Africa’s most important bat caves, which it protects along with surrounding habitat in collaboration with AfricanBats (AfricanBats Facebook Page) a nonprofit conservation organization founded by Ernest Seamark. The company has generously permitted use of its facility as a center for bat research. Mining operations will be located approximately four kilometers away.
The Gatkop Cave is home to as many as 250,000 Natal long-fingered bats (Miniopterus natalensis) and at least seven additional species of bats, including four of our favorites, the Short-eared trident bat (Cleotis persivali), the Peak-saddle horsehoe bat (Rhinolophus blasii), the Common slit-face bat (Nycteris theobaica) and the Sandevall’s leaf-nosed bat, (Hipposideros caffer).
On our first night, we were joined by two Ph.D. students, Stewart and Terrence, from Dr. Wanda Markotter’s lab at the University of Pretoria. They joined Ernest and Merlin in setting a small bat trap in a flyway near the cave entrance. Over the next two evenings we were able to capture and photograph eight bat species there. Also, Merlin enjoyed the opportunity to discuss shared concerns regarding recently sensationalized reports of diseases linked to bats as well as management options for the cave.