A major setback

Jonny Keeling
11 February 2008

This Friday I had a major setback. I'm planning a trip to the highlands of Papua New Guinea to film two presenters exploring a cave shaft deep in the heart of the jungle. That cave is the only known roosting site for a colony of incredibly rare bats, the Bulmer's fruit bat and no-one has been right into the cave for nearly 40 years. The idea is that our two presenters will abseil into the cave to document and record details of the colony, reporting on the state of the bat population with the aim of helping to conserve the species.

Preparations for the shoot are well under way: permissions have been applied for, the camera crew and climbing team have all been contacted, flights held and logistics worked out for the month of April when the weather is fine.

There's only one man in the world who has a detailed knowledge of the bat species and its roost site and that is professor Tim Flannery. So I thought I'd better call him. Tim's not easy to get hold of, especially since writing a bestselling book on climate change (The Weather Makers), and subsequently becoming Australian of the Year 2007. So I was really excited (and nervous) to finally track him down after months of trying.

I explained to him exactly what we wanted to do and he listened patiently. I was so relieved to hear him say 'That all sounds fine...' that I almost didn't hear the second half of the sentence ‘ long as you don't go down the cave in April'.

Professor Flannery thinks the bats give birth in April. And during this month mothers are flying around carrying newborn babies clinging to their bellies. A film crew entering the cave might cause mothers with young to panic and drop their payload. Once on the ground, youngsters are likely to die - adult fruit bats aren't able to simply land and retrieve their babies; they find it extremely difficult to take off from the floor of a cave or forest.

If we went in April we'd endanger the Bulmer's bat population. So I took Tim Flannery's advice, cancelled all the arrangements, all the logistics and postponed the shoot until later in the year.

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