Monday, 21 July 2014

South-East Asian Adventure

Selamat pagi from South-East Asia!

Last week my friends and I flew out to Malaysia, and I've already been amazed by the sheer abundance and variety of the wildlife we've seen so far.

On arriving in Kuala Lumpur, we first visited the Batu Caves. These are an ancient system of caves in which Hindu temples were built in 1891. The rocky crags provide perfect nest sites for hundreds of Pigeons and Oriental Turtle Doves, whilst the thousands of litter dropping tourists that visit the temples each year provide the local Long-Tailed Macaques with a constant food source.

However, it wasn't the monkeys or the birds we were here to see-it was the bats! Run by tourism Malaysia, the 'Dark Caves' system in Batu was formerly fully open to the public, which caused significant damage to the delicate cave ecosystem.Since the 70s however, conservation group 'Dark Caves Malaysia' has taken over the running of the caves, and now keep them mostly closed off, allowing only a few guided tours in each  week to educate people on the plight of the caves.

We signed up to one of these tours, and were not dissapointed by what we saw. The first thing that hits you is the sound of the fruit bats. As their name suggests, fruit bats feed on tropical fruits and so have not needed to develop echolocation in order to find and catch their food. Instead they emit audible chirps which resonate through the caves like bird call through an aviary. There are insectiverous bats here too, and as you look up you can just about see them flitting past gaps in the cave's roof. Be sure to keep your mouth closed though- one unlucky onlooker on our tour had a fresh pile of guano (bat poo) land on his tongue as he gazed up in awe at the bats flying overhead!

In the absence of sunlight to sustain plant life, it's the guano which fuels this ecosystem. Cockroaches and many other species of insect feed on the nutritious droppings which the bats produce,and devour any carcasses which fall to the ground. This provides prey for other animals living in the cave, such as long-legged centipedes, several types of rodent and an extremely rare type of trapdoor spider. The rodents in turn provide food for various types of snake, including Pit Vipers and Cave Racers. We were lucky enough to see just a handful of these creatures, but they still provided us with a powerful insight into life inside a cave.

Today we're off to Sumatra, in search of the mysterious man of the forest. Stay tuned....

Wednesday, 9 July 2014


Every year at my school in Oxfordshire, a pair of Canada Geese have goslings on an island on the site. Off limits to students, the moated island provides the isolation and shelter these birds need to nest. Usually they have a clutch of about 5-6 in May, of which only 3-4 survive. The rest are picked off by predators such as Foxes or Herons which often visit the island, despite the best efforts of their aggressive parents to protect them. 

This year, however, the geese had eight little goslings, and incredibly all eight have so far survived! I went to film them back in May (see below) when they were still only about a week and a half old. At this age they are tiny and look very un-goose-like, completely covered in yellow downy feathers and lacking the characteristic white chinstraps of their parents.

We know that one male has been coming for several years now. A few years ago this male got his leg caught in a fishing hook while he was raising his young on the moat. The school caretakers came to his rescue, catching him and removing the hook which has left a distinguishable scar on his right leg. We've no way of knowing if the female is the same one which has been visiting for years, but Canada Geese mate for life so the chances are that she is. Canada Geese are long living (the oldest recorded was 27 years old!), so the hope is that this pair will keep coming back to our moat for many more years to come.