The Small Mammals of Sagalla: Part 2
By Sarah Weiner
Feeling very fulfilled after my most recent elephant sighting in Tsavo, I’m back for Part II of The Small Mammals of Sagalla. Sadly, I had no luck capturing any critters in my homemade trap. That’s okay, though, because I’ve found new small mammals to obsess over.
There’s no time to waste, so let’s start with the only flying mammals: bats.
The same four or five bats visit us each evening at the Elephants and Bees Research Centre to feast upon the nightly buffet of insects that flock to the few sources of light around camp. The frequent flyers at the E&B Gourmet Canteen include two regulars in the bathroom, one hungry customer in the kitchen, and another winged foodie in the office. I believe these are slit-faced bats (of the genus Nycteris), though there are over 100 species of bat in Kenya (and 1400 worldwide!) and few of them are well studied, so my Google searches haven’t been very fruitful.
Slit-faced bat eating 2 [Video of a slit-faced bat eating]
The noise of a hungry bat munching on a crunchy moth sounds like pure bliss, so I try to interfere as little as possible. (I recommend ducking when entering the bathroom to avoid a head on collision.) Slit-faced bats (aptly named for the groove that runs from their nostrils to the middle of their forehead) hunt by using their oversized ears to listen for low-frequency sounds made by prey. My favorite flyer, who prefers the selection in the office, waits patiently on the acacia tree outside until she hears a particularly tasty morsel. Then, she pirouettes into the room to snag her prey midair and returns to her perch to enjoy her meal. I, for one, am grateful for her nightly visits. On more than one occasion, she has saved me from obnoxious sausage flies that always seem determined to dive bomb my laptop keyboard.
Sometimes we find bats roosting in empty beehives. These bats (of the Vespertilionidae family, or Vesper bats for short) are more endearing than our friends back at camp, and infinitely more charming than the bats I’m familiar with in the United States whose faces are rather gargoyle-esque. These beehive dwelling bats resemble little winged puppies. The noise of displeasure they make, however, when I remove them from the warmth and darkness of the hives sounds much more like nails on a chalkboard than the playful yips of a puppy.
Perhaps the rarest small mammal sighting I have in Sagalla is of the bush baby (Galago senegalensis) leaping through the trees above my tent. Undoubtedly the most adorable primates in Kenya, you might think that bush babies’ lungs are filled with helium given the way they float so effortlessly from branch to branch. Their bulbous, cartoonish eyes make them look perpetually startled, and when I catch our camp bush baby in the light of my torch, I know I have but a moment before she flees. Bush babies urinate on their hands to mark their territory as they prance through the canopy, so I try not to stand directly below her if I can help it. More often than not, though, I scare her almost immediately. Before my brain has even registered her presence, she has bounded off into the night, loudly crying her characteristic squeal.
So, while I wait for the next time that I get to go bouncing through the bush to find the largest mammals of Sagalla, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for the smallest mammals of Sagalla. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll even hear the mellow whooping of a hyena in the distance or Josh will point out some civet scat in Mzee Wabongo’s field, a reminder of all the other wildlife that roams nearby. And, if nothing else, I always know where to find the most loyal small mammals of them all: Winky and Tsavo, our faithful camp dogs, are always happy to receive a good ear scratch.
Photos and video credit: Sarah Weiner.
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