Africa attracts millions of tourists each year that come to visit animals. Most of them are searching for the "Big Five" (Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Buffalo, Leopard), others are content with the cast of the lion king, some want to see uncountable Wildebeest attempt to cross a crocodile infested river but there is a lesser-known attraction in Zambia - a bat migration.
Ace Ventura's least favorite animals flock in their millions (10 million allegedly) to Zambia to hang out in caves and trees during the day but at sunset emerge to feast. Fortunately for most of the local population these bats are not Vampiric but fruit bats. We arrived at the park near the end of the day and learned that the park fees are fairly high. No problem we thought, 1 day of park fees is surely worth it to view the largest mammalian migration on earth. Unfortunately the authorities class a day as being from 6am to 6pm. In a park where the only attraction are bats. That come out at 6:30pm. I can almost hear the consultants polyester suits crinkling as they still laugh about that one. This was the perfect time to practice good manners, deliberate silence, and reasonable negotiation. After a deal was reached we began to drive to the viewing point in the park.
The track was narrow and overgrown, clearly a vehicle as big as ours had not passed through in a long time. By the time we had reached the 'visitor centre' the sides were scratched, panels bent up at the edges, and the truck coated in tree bark and debris. We proposed a camping situation and while we waited watched some peace corps volunteers fill paper napkins with popcorn, attempt to fold them into parcels, and hand them to kids they were educating. After conforming that we could camp at the centre we headed deeper into the park to the viewing station. The track was even worse, at one point we had to drive around a tree through the marshy forest. The truck took some damage from all the branches and bushes but by careful weaving we eventually arrived at a fork in the road where we could abandon our vehicle and proceed on foot to the station.
The station turned out to be a small clearing in the trees where the sky was unobstructed. We bumped into some South Africans we had chatted to the night before who had brought hipflasks, cigarettes, and banter to kill time while the bats got ready. The peace corps arrived later with a score of children to learn about ecology. After some waiting, three lone bats emerged and flapped over us. The Saffers erupted into jokes and laughter at this disappointing spectacle.
Eventually more and more bats emerged and flew over us. More and more and more until the entire sky was filled with bat silhouettes. The density kept rising and gradually cameras fell, talking stopped, and everyone just looked up in awe at the uncountable number of bats. Cameras simply cannot do the spectacle justice - which was convenient as ours ran out of battery.
The Thermopylean spectacle wound down as as the sun set we returned to the truck. We had to drive the entirity of the way back in the dark. We were not able to be as careful on this leg and as soon as a tree branch was behind the beams of our headlights the only sense we had of them were the scraping sounds they made. It took us over an hour but we eventually made it back to the camp, cooked dinner, and slept. We had to leave the park before 6am which meant rising at 5am just as the bats are returning. After some thought we concluded that it's preferable to see the bats while their stomachs are empty anyway.
We left Kasanka national park with the objective of visiting a human (rather than animal) spectacle further north.