The Cave and the Fairy: How a Village Wants to Save Rare Bats
Wroughton’s Free-Tailed Bats can be found in a few parts of India and Cambodia. (Photo: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Kalyanvarma">Kalyanvarma</a>)
Wroughton’s Free-Tailed Bats can be found in a few parts of India and Cambodia. (Photo: Kalyanvarma)

The Cave and the Fairy: How a Village Wants to Save Rare Bats

In the middle of Pynurkba, a small village in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills, a patch of jungle is surrounded by agricultural land. The jungle hides a small valley and a cave, where about 30 rare bats survive.

There are only around 200 of of these Wroughton’s Free-Tailed Bats left in the entire world. Habitat destruction completely decimated the limited places where these small bats live. They need thin crevices, so they can’t survive in any old cave, according to Khlur Mukhim, a zoologist at The North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong.

But villagers in Pynurkba want to take the protection of Wroughton’s Bats in their own hands. And they have the help of a fairy.

View from inside the bat cave. (Photo: Manon Verchot)
View from inside the bat cave. (Photo: Manon Verchot)

The entrance of the cave is steep and slippery. Few people venture there alone, especially girls, says Philip Rymbai, a local farmer and former secretary of the village council. They are scared the water fairy, Tabalong, who could hurt them.

Sometimes, she ventures into the village, Rymbai adds. But he tells her to go back and leave them alone.

Fear of the fairy means the jungle surrounding the cave hasn’t been cut down. It also means not many people enter the cave and disturb the bats.

Even after trying, they may not find the cave. Rymbai says he and his daughters deliberately send visitors in the wrong direction to protect the bats living a couple of hundred metres from his home.

Wroughton’s Free-Tailed Bats colonies. (Photo Courtesy: Khlur Mukhim)
Wroughton’s Free-Tailed Bats colonies. (Photo Courtesy: Khlur Mukhim)

Initially, villagers were not interested in protecting the bats, Rymbai says. They saw them as pests who would fly into their homes. Occasionally, they would hunt and eat them. But that changed when Khlur Mukhim, a zoologist, decided to run an awareness campaign.

Now, the villagers understand the importance of the bats. They know that one bat can eat as many as 1,000 insects in one night, which is useful when the mosquito season comes.

These small services that bats contribute to the ecosystem around them are actually significant, according to Mukhim.

We can’t live without biodiversity. We can’t live alone on this planet. 
Khlur Mukhim, Zoologist
The bats are really small. (Photo Courtesy: Khlur Mukhim)
The bats are really small. (Photo Courtesy: Khlur Mukhim)

Though Mukhim counted 15 babies in 2015, he says their survival is still uncertain. Cement companies and illegal mining in the East Jaintia Hills are destroying precious habitats. These activities have adverse environmental impact on the foraging range of bats and other species in the area.

At the same time, villagers and the government are yet to share the same page on how to protect the bats despite several interactions they had in 2015 and 2016. Villagers like Rymbai feel the government isn’t giving them the support they need to properly protect the bats.

Rymbai wants to set up a museum so visitors who want to see the bats can get a sense of these rare creatures without disturbing them.

But the villagers have yet to form a Biodiversity Management Committee, which would allow them to get financial assistance from the Meghalaya Biodiversity Board Office under the National Biodiversity Act of 2002.

Once they form this committee, the village will be able to work with the government. Until then, the fate of the bats lies in the fragile little jungle and the fairy that protects the entrance of the cave.

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