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A colony of 'Spectacled' Flying Foxes roost in the treetops beside the Odyssey.
Photo: Chris Johnson

April 9, 2001
Spectacled Flying Foxes of Madang
  Real Audio
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Log Transcript

A couple of days ago we sailed into the port town of Madang, unofficially dubbed, 'the prettiest town in the Pacific'. Madang Province is built on a peninsula that juts out into the sea, and is sprinkled with parks, lily covered ponds and waterways. It is backed by some of the most rugged mountain ranges harboring the highest peaks in all of Papua New Guinea. There are some 45 volcanic islands off Madang, three of which are still active.

For the first time in over a year, the Odyssey is tied up to a dock, affording us the opportunity to complete some much needed boat maintenance work. Bob, Josh and Ned have spent the last couple of days sanding, grinding, chipping, filling, painting and varnishing in preparation for our next leg to the north west of the mainland.

Alongside the dock, there are legions of luxuriant old trees, mainly casuarinas. Many of these huge trees survived World War Two and now tower majestically over the township, playing host to large colonies of Spectacled Flying Foxes or Kwandi, as the locals know them. Climbing the 65feet to the Odyssey's crow's nest, the crew is afforded an excellent eye-level view of these animals, that at this height are only meters away. In addition to the spectacle, their continual high pitched screeching is a constant reminder of their presence.

    Audio of flying foxes.

Bats are the most visible mammals in Papua New Guinea and play an integral role in the health of the country's forests. They assist in the maintenance of local environments through the dispersal of fruit tree seeds and the control of insect populations. They are also a rich source of protein for those who eat them.

From the Odyssey's 'crow's nest', we have a 'flying foxes view' of the rest of the colony. We are able to see the yellow mantle contrasting with the black fur, and the yellow rings around the eyes that give this large bat its name.
Photo: Chris Johnson

We have learned that this large camp, has been resident in the town of Madang for several years. Approximately 7,000 animals are scattered among 25 major roosts, including high trees in the centre of town. We also discovered that the reason for the roosts being between 20 - 25 meters off the ground, is that the bats have learned to stay out of reach of rocks, which are catapulted by hunters. Although this protected colony is rarely hunted by people, they often fall prey to aerial attacks by White-bellied sea-eagles.

It has been interesting to observe these flying foxes hanging vertically in the heat of the day, gently fanning their bodies with the flight membrane of their wings. Then every evening, just before dusk, we watch these large bats disperse across the treetops of Madang, many selecting a flight path directly over the Odyssey, before heading north or south along the coast to feed on blossoms and fruit. Some individuals of this species have been observed drinking seawater prior to embarking on a foraging commute, perhaps obtaining minerals which are deficient in their diet. Dr.Frank Bonaccorso, curator of Natural History at the Papua New Guinea National Museum and recent visiting scientist aboard Odyssey, has studied the bat fauna of PNG for many years. He has worked tirelessly to create an interest in these unique animals, fostering a desire in the community to conserve and protect them. In recent years there had been increasing complaints that these bats were presenting a hazard to aircraft traffic flying in and out of Madang. Dr. Bonaccorso submitted a report of the flight patterns of these bats to the airline, which services Madang. Air Niugini subsequently followed the recommendation not to land aircraft between the hours of 5 -8pm. Demonstrating that commerce and the environment can coexist, such action, has assured the protection of this special colony.

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey in Madang.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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