A group of Junior Honorary Rangers from the Bushveld Region spent four days last week at Letaba Rest Camp, Kruger National Park, making a hands-on contribution to the camp's work on bat conservation.
The eight Juniors, aged between 12 and 17, undertook a full survey of all guest accommodation and other camp buildings to identify evidence of bat occupation, assisted with the bat-proof sealing of some structures and even caught some of the flying mammals for closer investigation.
They were also given the opportunity to spend time in the park, learning about wildlife and enjoying the experience of living in the bush.
The Letaba Bat House Project was set up by Louis Olivier (Regional Ranger, Phalaborwa), Trix Olivier (Administrative Officer, Phalaborwa) and Kirsty Redman (Interpretive Officer, Northern Region) and is managed by Ian Pollard (Field Guide, Letaba). It aims to research an ecologically viable method for humanely discouraging bats from roosting in tourist accommodation; replacing the traditional, and often criticised, solutions of exclusion or chemical eradication.
Although bats cause minimal damage to buildings they are often viewed as 'nuisance' animals. However, each bat's nightly diet of over 2000 insects will include around 200 malaria-carrying mosquitoes, making the species an important factor in the control of the disease. Due to Letaba's riverside location, a wide variety of bats are found within camp, including four insect-eating species; the Angolan free-tailed bat, the little free-tailed bat, the Mauritian tomb bat and the yellow house bat. The first bat houses were erected, in front of the Letaba Elephant Hall, in August 2004 and have been successfully used by a number of little free-tailed bats as roost sites.
The monitoring project is still in its early stages but the two houses have proved to be an effective way of controlling bat numbers in man-made camp structures. Future work will involve sealing those structures that don't currently have bats, erecting new bat houses in specially chosen sites and finally excluding bats from other structures. The project would not be possible without the ongoing support of the Honorary Rangers of the Bushveld Region.
As well as the enthusiastic efforts of their Junior members, they continue to provide financial and man-power support, and have generously donated all the bat houses that will be used within the camp.
For further information on the Letaba Bat House Project please contact the People & Conservation Offices at Letaba Restcamp (Tel 013 735 6636 ext 211).
By Anna Faherty