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Protecting Africa’s Largest Aerial Migration

Every year, between October and December, 8–10 million straw-coloured fruit bats descend on the park to feast on an abundance of fruit. From West Africa, over the forests of the Congo basin and on to Zambia, the bats migrate thousands of kilometres over Savannas and open land, dispersing seeds into deforested areas, and reforesting and regenerating landscapes on their journey. Scientists are still trying to fathom why these fruit bats, or “flying foxes”, gather at Kasanka National Park in numbers not seen anywhere else. Each night they leave their evergreen swamp fig roosts to fly up to 55 miles (90km) in search of wild berries and fruit. Listed as near threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list, the straw-coloured fruit bat is one of the largest fruit bats in Africa. There are fears that if their numbers drop below a certain amount, the colony may not be able to keep going. “If that turns out to be true, we might be in trouble,” says Dr Dina Dechmann of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, whose team has studied the bats for 12 years. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the bats have faced a new threat from humans seeking to attack them. “These bats are being persecuted because of ongoing publicity about their role as virus hosts. Their importance completely outweighs the potential threat,” says Dechmann, adding that their role in transmitting viruses such as Covid-19 directly to humans has not been scientifically proved.