Heading back

By Kim Lengel, Vice President of Conservation and Education

My alarm rang at 2:30 a.m.  I could have squeezed in another half hour of sleep but I wanted to shower knowing it would be a LONG time until I next had an opportunity to do so.  
Tim and I hopped into the MWF truck that came to pick us up and stopped to pick up Nadine on the way to GDEWS. There we met two other trucks driven by other MWF staff at GDEWS.  We would need all three trucks to get us, the crates, and our luggage to the airport. 
We checked the bats and they all looked alert. They had eaten well – a good sign that they were not too stressed. We cleared out the leftover food, secured the crates closed, and loaded up the trucks.  It was an hour drive to the airport and we wanted to take it slowly since the bats were in the back of open trucks and it gets chilly at night.  We wanted to make sure the bats didn’t get too cold on the trip in.  The spiders were more enclosed so I was not as concerned about them. 
Our convoy of trucks took off of for the airport. As we were driving dawn broke and we were able to watch the sky lighten around the craggy volcanic mountains.  It was beautiful.  And an added bonus was we saw a few Mauritian fruit bats flying back to their roosts after a night of foraging.  

Our last sunrise in Mauritius.
Dawn over sugar cane fields in Mauritius

At the Air Mauritius cargo area, we had our next paperwork test.  I once again shuffled through all the permits in my “diplomatic pouch” to provide what was necessary to clear the bats for the flight.  The Air Mauritius employee was very thorough and in addition to the usual permits, asked me a series of questions about how we had prepared the crates to maximize animal welfare. While some of these questions are mandated by IATA that very specifically dictates standards that animal shipment containers must meet,  Air Mauritius goes beyond that to ensure animals are well-provided on their flight.   The bats and spiders passed with flying colors.  

Entering the new airport in Mauritius
Bats and spiders being processed through Air Mauritius cargo.
Bats and spiders being processed through Air Mauritius cargo.

Now that the animals were on their way to the plane, we needed to get to the passenger terminal and ensure we got checked into the flight.  Vikash dropped us off and we said our good-byes knowing that we would still be in touch frequently over the next days, reporting on how the animals did, and longer-term continuing our conservation partnership.
Our flight to Johannesburg was uneventful and upon arrival, we looked for our South African broker in the arrival hall.  Beth had hired him to meet us and relay us to the South African Airlines cargo area where we would meet the state veterinarian and under her supervision, feed the bats.   The broker was also bringing along a good supply of the bats’ favorite fruits chopped into pieces – papaya, orange, and apple.  

Immigration hall at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
Immigration hall at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

But before I could feed, we had one more paperwork mini-crisis.  The South African state vet needed to see an original copy of the permit from the South African veterinary authority that permitted us to transit through with the bats.  I had several copies of the permit with the official stamps in my “pouch” but none of them were the on the original watermarked paper. Things started to get a little tense as I once again shuffled paperwork but fortunately, Tim came to the rescue and found the permit amongst the paperwork we had attached to the bat crates.   Permit in hand, the vet’s attitude changed quickly and she released us to feed the bats.

Bats and spiders in South African Airways cargo area where we went to feed them en route to New York.
Bats and spiders in South African Airways cargo area where we went to feed them en route to New York.

After stuffing their dishes full of fruit and filling their cups with water we left the bats to feed in peace and we returned to the airport with the broker. We had not even opened the spider crates since the spiders will only feed when they are in a full web so there was no point in trying to offer them food.
By now, I was a mess from sitting on the floor of the cargo area while I fed bats.  My pants were filthy, my hands were sticky, and I was tired. But Tim and I were really happy with how good the bats looked and how readily they approached the food almost as soon as we had put it in the crates. These were some well-adjusted bats!
All that remained now was to wait for our departure on our 16-hour flight back to New York.  We had an 8-hour layover at O.R. Tambo International Airport but between feeding the bats, feeding ourselves, and doing a little duty-free shopping, we used up our time quickly and before we knew it our flight was boarding.  Tim and I settled in for our long flight.  Thankfully, we were both pretty tired so sleep came easily and the flight went relatively quickly.

Leaving Johannesburg
Leaving Johannesburg.

10/02/2013 : Back in the States

It’s 6:30 a.m. New York time and we’re here. Our job now is to get back to the Zoo as quickly as possible.


10/01/2013 : Heading back

We checked the bats and they all looked alert. They had eaten well during the night – a good sign that they were settled in.


09/30/2013 : Catching spiders

Tim, an avid kayaker, was determined not to leave Mauritius without kayaking in the Indian Ocean.  So he was up very early on Monday for a sunrise kayak on the bay.  He and his guide had a great hour, kayaking with a group of spinner dolphins! 


09/29/2013 : Tourist Time

We took a long bus ride to Quatre Bonnes for the weekly market where we had a chance to pick up some souvenirs for family, friends, and coworkers. 


09/28/2013 : Getting ready for the move

Back in our rooms after dinner, I heard the distinctive sound of fruit bats breeding.  I pinpointed the noise to a nearby mango tree and using a flashlight, I picked up the eyeshine of two Mauritius fruit bats – Pteropus niger – in the tree.


09/28/2013 : Rare birds in Mauritius

The aviary is only a short ride away from our hotel and houses some of the rarest avian species in the world. The aviary used to be a big center for captive propagation and reintroduction but now currently houses mostly injured or non-releasable specimens, with the exception of the bats. 


09/27/2013 : Seeing an old friend

On Friday morning, I was finally able to see Mary Jane Raboude. During her ten years as the first REEP, MJ and I had spent a lot of time together. She had visited the US 4 times for continuing education, to spend time at the Zoo, and to present at conferences.  She always stayed at our home so our family had become close to MJ. 


09/26/2013 : Anse Quitor and Francois Leguat Tortoise Park

This site is more challenging, in some ways, than Grand Montagne.  While it’s generally easier to access – no cliff faces to deal with –because it’s so dry and because wandering domestic animals are more of a problem, reforestation is slower going here.


09/26/2013 : Touring Rodrigues

Very proud to be a part of an organization that has played such a major role in saving a species.


09/25/2013 : Off to Rodrigues

Some more background on how the Philly Zoo became a champion for endangered bats half way around the world. 


09/24/2013 : Some background on Mauritius

The Republic of Mauritius is an island nation located about 1200 miles off the southeast coast of the African continent in the Indian Ocean, which includes the principal island of Mauritius, Rodrigues (the only home of the Rodrigues fruit bat), and several smaller outlying islands and archipelagos.


09/24/2013 : Arriving in Mauritius

I'm so excited to return the island where I did my graduate work almost 20 years ago.  It's hard to believe I've been working to conserve Rodrigues fruit bats for that long.


09/23/2013 : Traveling to Mauritius

Veterinarian Dr. Tim Georoff and I left Monday morning from JFK airport in NYC for our flight to Mauritius by way of Johannesburg, South Africa.  We're travelling all this way for the primary purpose of accompanying 30 Rodrigues fruit bats back to the Zoo from the long-time captive colony of bats at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Center in Mauritius.