From Shigu Farm, it was only about a three-hour drive to Kasanka National Park. This rather small and manageable park becomes a star for just under three months of the year, from October to December. During this time, it hosts the largest mammal migration in the world. From far away, from the Democratic Republic of Congo and even from West Africa(!), a total of about 8 – 10 million straw-coloured fruit bats make their way to Kasanka and gather here during these three months. We were able to book in for two consecutive nights at a campsite in the park and also booked a spot in one of the few hides. Platforms (12-18 meters high) have been erected at various points in the park, which can be booked to watch the animals swarming at sunset.
We set up
Our campsite is rather unpopular, which is why it was still available. When we reached it after a drive of about 12 km, we were positively surprised. We had a great view and everything was free and spacious. Our toilet had a seat – no, that’s not a given – and the shower was a classic bucket shower. Many travelers apparently prefer to be closer to the action and don’t like taking on the extra six miles. We didn’t mind and the two staff members at the campsite were friendly and accommodating. After settling in, we discussed the times for the shower and campfire, prepared the equipment, packed enough water and then set off for the meeting point.
Off to dizzy heights
When we arrived at the meeting point, our guide was already waiting for us. We set off with a few others to climb the newly built David Lloyd Hide. The structure is made of steel and the interior staircase does not have treads. We didn’t give it a second thought and climbed rung by rung until we finally arrived at a platform nearly 12 meters above the ground. The other participants were a filming employee of Ironman 4×4, one of the owners of Ultimate Adventures, and two other people we didn’t know. Ultimate Adventures had organized an adventure trip and the other participants were on a separate Hide. Since this was too small for all of them, they joined us.
Waiting for the straw-coloured fruit bats
What do you think it feels like to have millions of straw-coloured fruit bats flying over your head? We had no answer to the question and waited until the sun slowly set. Then, all of a sudden, we saw the first fruit bats emerge from the forest. There were more and more and after a good quarter of an hour the sky was littered with fruit bats. They turned their circles in millions, 10-20 meters above our heads. Photographically this was hell for Guido. They didn’t take off until late dusk and the 500mm telephoto lens had an open aperture of 4. The Sony A1’s autofocus did a first-rate job even in these poor conditions. The price of the late hour then manifested itself in ISO numbers of 12,800. The last pictures were then even taken at only 1/100 sec. Kinky, but yes, life is sometimes hard and unfair (*haha)
How did we perceive the experience in Kasanka National Park?
To put it directly: it was impossible and absolutely out of question to somehow capture the impression of spatial vision here. The straw-coloured fruit bats are not giants with a body length of up to about 20 cm. In addition, they were at some distance above our heads. The sheer mass of animals was very hard to capture in a way that comes close to the feeling you have at that moment. When you surrendered to the moment and just were in the moment, it was terrific. It was touching – grown men had tears in their eyes from emotion – but it was quietly touching. Just as the whole spectacle goes on quietly, the poignancy quietly makes its way through your organism. When it has arrived deep within you and shows itself, you feel a deep connection with everything that is and are grateful that you were allowed to experience this.
In search of new perspectives
For us it was clear that we wanted to check out the public viewing spot on the ground the next day. Another evening on the Hide would not have brought anything new. We made our way in good time and were curious to see if we would meet more people there. Just as we were getting settled in, Alex and Petr came around the corner. These two are two funny and very likeable men from Kenya. They run a mobile photo safari company there and were on a private getaway. We had a lot of fun with them and it was so exciting to be able to observe this emotion in them as well. It was interesting that the palm flying dogs also roughly adjusted their flight altitude when observed on the ground and we had a very similar perspective to the one on the Hide.
Now that we knew what to expect, we could get involved in the spectacle even better. Guido took some photos from previously explored perspectives – this time mainly with the wide-angle lens – and could otherwise enjoy this natural phenomenon.
We leave Kasanka National Park
The next morning we left the park satisfied and traveled on to the north of Zambia. We wanted to visit selected waterfalls and then drive north to the South Luangwa National Park. We did not know at that time what else would await us.