golden mantled flying foxes

So like… so much happens in this video. So much that I need to break it down, so you can understand the daily tragicomedy of the bat pens, and of zookeeping in general.

Here’s your background, because a lot happened before I even managed to turn on the camera. This is a pen containing bats of three species: variable flying foxes, Rodrigues fruit bats, and little golden-mantled flying foxes. The variable flying foxes in this pen are all old and arthritic and often kind of cranky. All the bats in the pen are female except for two castrated males (one variable, one golden).

This whole altercation began when I went to feed one of the variable flying foxes, Miss Pearl, her daily supplement. Miss Pearl was recently moved from a different pen because she was having trouble competing with younger bats during feeding time. She never really integrated with the other variables and instead likes to hang out with the Rodrigues flying foxes (Rods).

There are three Rods in this pen, and all three of them dislike being near people. Chalk it up to them having chronic weight problems and getting grabbed for weighing all the time. Anyway, when I moved to feed Miss Pearl, all three Rods moved away in different directions. One of them (Skye) moved towards the cluster of variable flying foxes hanging to my right.

Flying foxes, as we all know, are territorial of the places they like to roost in, and have a personal bubble of a few inches that they consider sacred. So Skye moved into the personal bubble of one of the variables, causing a domino effect as everybody shifted around and got into everybody else’s bubble.

The variable directly next to the rogue Rod, shifted away and ended up irritating her neighbor, Amelia. The two variables began to argue, which in bat terms means gurgling at each other and smacking each other with their thumbs. Arguments like these conclude when one bat gives up and moves away, but this one went on a little longer than normal, and attracted the attention of Mr. Kringle, the castrated male variable that lives in the pen.

Mr. Kringle is old and extremely arthritic, and got moved to this pen because he got picked on by younger males. Since he’s been in this pen, he’s gotten back a lot of vigor and often attempts to mount/boss around the lady bats (with little effect). Upon noticing the argument, he lurched over to the pair, got in Amelia’s face, and proceeded to start squeak-yelling at her, an action that could either be intended as a “Hey, let’s fuck,” suggestion, or simply a desire to insert himself into the fight.

This is when I started filming. Upon the start of the video, you have Mr. Kringle squeak-yelling at a very frustrated Amelia, as her neighbor looks on at her shoulder, while Skye hangs in the foreground keeping a worried eye on me.

Then, as the argument between Amelia and Mr. Kringle progresses, another variable, Cocoa, crosses in front of everything and proceeds to urinate and defecate in the bat style (hanging from her thumbs). You’ll notice some liquid goes on her when she shakes, but this is actually leftover water from rain that was hanging on the wire mesh, not urine. Though bats do often deliberately cover themselves with urine. Anyway.

1 = Skye. 2 = Mr. Kringle. 3 = Amelia. 4 = Amelia’s neighbor, who I can’t remember the name of at the moment. 5 = Cocoa.

By the end of the video, Amelia gives up and moves away, ending the fight. Her neighbor adds in one last squeak as she does so. Mr. Kringle looks as though he’s ready to fall asleep after all the exertion. You can catch a glimpse of Amelia looking back at me in the last second or so of the video, like she just remembered I was there. Also, as an added bonus, you can see a bat named Serina scratching herself on the right around the 25 second mark.

Altercations like this happen numerous times each day in the bat pens. There are alliances and break-ups and silly squabbles that sometimes turn serious, and there are the keepers, too, constantly reorganizing everybody to try and maintain a little order.

Anyway, I thought about putting this video up with just a one-line caption, and letting people draw their own conclusions. But there’s so much backstory to what’s going on, you know? And I really find it fascinating to parse it all out and understand exactly what led to what.