Watching my friendly neighbours, flying foxes
First appeared on Mongabay India on July 28, 2020. This is an excerpt. The full piece is here.
Dusk settles over the city.
On cue, the sky brings out its colour palette. As deep oranges and reds take over, the day – with its creatures – shifts. It’s rush hour. Egrets and cormorants fly across, kites circle up and above until they don’t. Crows gather at rooftop tanks, planning little murders.
The skies empty.
In the canopy of the rain tree opposite my house in Mumbai, black upside-down shapes – appearing like large, rectangular fruits – begin to stir. Enormous, leathery wings unfurl among the branches, fanning the wind.
The hitherto quiet tree erupts with chatter – squeaks, and screeches that rapidly rise into a cacophony of noises. One by one, Indian flying foxes (Pteropus medius) fill the sky with their goliath wings, circling the trees around, leaving in groups or alone, some soaring high, some taking well-known routes, until the tree is silent. Sun’s out, the moon’s in. And like clockwork, the night shift begins.
A little over a year ago, I moved into a room that faced a roosting site of Indian flying foxes. It took me a while to notice them, conditioned, as I was to find colour among the leaves – the hues of the coppersmith, or the green of the parakeets. We habitually give bats a wide berth. They’re not conventionally beautiful, they’re associated with vampires and demons in popular culture, they claim the nights while we function through the day and their worldview is literally the polar opposite to ours.
There are over 1,400 species of bats worldwide. Over a third of bat species assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are considered threatened or data deficient, and well over half of the species have unknown or decreasing population trends.