7 July, 2016

At Satonda Island, off the north coast off Sumbawa, we witnessed an arcane sunset mission as hundreds of thousands of flying foxes emerged in a steady throng from the forest, reminiscent of a fleet of enemy aircraft intent on avoiding radar detection. Unlike their smaller cave-dwelling cousins, these large fruit bats hang out in camps high above the rainforest floor, keeping cool by fanning themselves with their huge wings, which can measure up to 1.7 m from tip to tip. They feed on a diet of fruit and nectar from night-opening flowers, playing an essential ecological role by pollinating the plants and dispersing their seeds.

As darkness grows near, the fox bats become increasingly restless, leaving the roost in enormous numbers, and navigating not by echolocation but by sight and smell, to fly to a feeding site on the mainland that may be as far as 40 kilometres away. This marvel can also be witnessed at Kalong Island near Rinca, and likewise the bats can be seen returning to forest in the same spectacular fashion at dawn.

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