December. That time of year that everyone in Johannesburg usually associates with sand, sun and beach holidays. However, whilst most of the city was trekking down to the coast, three students headed the opposite direction, to the savanna bushveld region of the Limpopo province for a three-week training course. Ms. Marëtte Pretorius and Ms. Emma Swartz (South Africa) and Mr. Patrick Jules Atagana (Cameroon) attended the 5th Bat Fieldworker’s course (25 November -17 December 2017), held at the Meletse Bat Research Conservation and Training Centre near Thabazimbi.
The first few days were spent training in bat handling and measuring procedures, thereafter getting down to the business of working with live bats under the supervision of Mr Ernest Seamark. Whilst beach-goers elsewhere got up to secure prime spots for all-day sun tanning, the student trio was already up before sunrise, busy emptying harp traps, weighing, and measuring bats. In between attending lectures on echolocation and processing bats, the students were ‘taught the ropes’ on tying knots and putting up pole nets as well as canopy nets. It quickly became apparent that some were more adept at throwing the canopy net anchoring ropes over the branches of tall trees than others.
The course also offered opportunities to explore the surroundings, and interesting wildlife encountered included a pair of Barn Owls (Tyto alba), a Banded Rubber Frog (Phrynomantis bifasciatus) and the resident Bush Baby (Galago senegalensis). After three days of report writing to synthesise the bat data collected, the course ended with a relaxed braai under clear skies and the tranquil calls of the Scops-owls. Everything from encountering the local wildlife, dodging bushveld thunderstorms and working with more than 600 bats made for an unforgettable learning experience.