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This is bat country

By Tim Henson 2 years ago
Categories Uncategorized

The air is full, thick and humid in the darkness. The cave walls stretch out around you glistening in the dim light; the floor, soft and crawling with life. The cave ceiling alive, moving, swooping and darting; and in the torchlight, thousands of ruby eyes shining back at you. Watching you. The piercing screeches echo from seemingly everywhere in the darkness. Then you feel it, the wings of 40,000 bats, beating as one, causing a huge gust of wind that rushes past your ears. This was my first experience in the Fikirini caves, and it’s not for the faint hearted. This is adventure.

Sunlight pierces through the roof of the ancient cave.

I decided to take on a project of my own, which was to study the different species of bats in Shimoni and the surrounding area. Having worked with bats back in the U.K., I thought this would be right up my street. After doing initial background reading and research, the first port of call was to explore the caves in the area. The coral caves of Fikirini seemed like most the logical place to start, but I was not prepared for what was about to come.

We took a ride on boda-boda (that’s a motorbike) and arrived in Fikirini in the hot and humid afternoon, we met Toya, our guide and local bat-man who took us to the entrance to the caves. The Fikirini caves, also known as the Three Sisters caves, are home to several species of bat, he said, with an estimated 40,000 individuals dwelling within them. Take some time to digest that number. Forty thousand bats!

Upon entering cave number one, I was blown away with how many there were, not only that but the staggering natural beauty of the place. The walls were covered in coral scars, imprints left by the coral and sponges that were present there millennia ago. You glace to your left and you can see trees growing, basking in the strong sunlight from where the roof has caved in. This place is a hidden treasure, giving us a glimpse into the past and letting our minds wander and imagine how it might have looked like all those years ago.

Just a small sample of the thousands of bats clinging to the cave walls.

The bats sensed our presence from the first moment we stepped into their domain. This sent them swooping and darting from one cave wall to the next. You feel them rushing past your face and some of the more clumsy ones are slapping you with their wings. They swarmed so close around us as we walked out into the centre of one chamber.

Toya took us through the first and second caves fairly quickly. As we approached the entrance to the third we were greeting by a vast wooden staircase (Indiana Jones style), which lead us down into the darkness. This was the biggest of all the caves; this was the grand finale.  We climbed down one by one and entered into the abyss. I thought the first two caves were mind blowing, but they had nothing on this last one. Thousands and thousands of bats, all diving and swooping towards you, were screeching in the darkness. I felt something on my arm; a bat clung to me as if I were the cave wall. We were utterly surrounded, yet we plunged deeper still into the cave. The further we ventured, the more bats came flying at us. As we came to the end of the cave tour, Toya took us to the exit of the cave. We stood there looking out into the sunlight outside and saw the silhouettes of the bats, little blurs of darkness shooting across the canvas of bright light. One thing was for certain: this was their world, their realm. This was bat country.