Tuesday, 20 November 2012


Wildlife lovers visiting Ghana are likely to head for the elephants at Mole, one of the monkey sanctuaries, or perhaps along the coast to try and spot a turtle. But every night, an amazing natural spectacle takes place right in the centre of Accra. And most people, locals and visitors alike, are oblivious to it.

Actually, scratch that; most people must be simply indifferent. The traders selling snacks at the ‘37’ military hospital cannot fail to notice the straw-coloured fruit bats roosting in the trees above them. The animals’ chattering is loud enough to drown out the traffic at this busy intersection. And at 6.00pm every evening, as the sun sets, they fly off in their thousands to feed in the fruit trees north of the city.

Bats at sunset (you can just make them out)
The question is: why do they live along one of Accra’s noisiest, most polluted roads, and not among the trees where they feed each night? I asked a woman selling fruit outside the hospital gates. 

She told me that the bats were the chosen guards of a great Akyem chief from the Eastern region. When he fell ill and was taken to the hospital, these loyal guards followed him there. Alas, the poor chap didn’t make it, so never left the hospital – and the bats have remained at ‘37’ ever since.

Now there are clearly a few flaws in this story. Firstly, if he really was a ‘great chief’, then why did he choose bats as his guards? And if these bats were clever enough to be guards, then would one of them not have worked out what had happened and broken it gently to the others?

Roosting bats
Still, the Lonely Planet says it’s important to respect other people’s beliefs, so I smiled, nodded and left her to her business. She seemed neither bothered nor interested in the bats. And although there have been some efforts to remove them, most people seem happy to let them be.

But I know at least one other person who appreciates them: for Ethan, the 4-year-old son of two friends in Accra, bats overhead means “it’s time for bed”. Swap ‘bed’ for ‘beer’ and I am with him; the Accra bats provide a spectacular reminder to clock off for the day. 

1 comment:

  1. Would you add your bat photos as a citizen-science observation to the AfriBats project on iNaturalist?:

    AfriBats will use your observations to better understand bat distributions and help protect bats in Africa.

    Please locate your picture on the map as precisely as possible to maximise the scientific value of your records.

    Many thanks!

    PS: these are straw-coloured fruit bats, Eidolon helvum