Papua New Guinea – Been There

How many people can a bat feed?

Marcus Paringu is a Yangoru Boiken bat hunter who lives near Wewak town in the shadow of 1,600-meter-high Mount Turu. In this deeply-forested area, the hunters cut breaks in the treeline and stretch out nets to catch the giant fruit bats that fly through the gaps.

Photo by Timothy Allen

Papua New Guinea – Been There

How many people can a bat feed?

Marcus Paringu from Papua New Guinea has a translucent red smile that reveals teeth blackened by many years of chewing betel nut. As darkness falls, he begins his night watch. Sitting on a stool, he periodically glances upwards into the darkness. “A bat with rice can feed 12 people,” he says.

Timothy Allen
Timothy Allen Travel Photographer

We are on a forested ridge standing in one of the clearings made by Marcus and his friends. At either side of the gap high up in the canopy are two long poles from which hangs a giant net spanning the width of the hole cut into the forest. At the base of the net is a small hut and Marcus gestures us in to sit by the fire as the sun begins to set behind the lush canopy.

Marcus knows many giant fruit bats roost in upland caves nearby. Their feeding grounds are in the plains below and when the time comes for them to return home at night, they choose to fly via the shortest route their sonar can detect. Like a giant spider, Marcus sits silently at the corner of his web waiting for the unsuspecting prey. Kindling pops as the fire crackles gently in the background.

I jolt my head up with a start. There is movement and shouting around me and from above a clanging sound like a herd of cowbells approaching. Marcus is pulling hard on a rope and suddenly the huge net begins to sag and descend like a theater curtain plummeting to the stage. There is a thud as something in the mesh hits the ground screeching. Marcus brings down the blunt end of his machete on the animal’s head and it is still.

The next morning I wake up to the smell of smoldering fur. Apart from the bones every part of a fruit bat is edible - even the leather on the wings. There is not a great deal of meat on them but what is there is tasty, if a little charred from its cooking on an open fire.

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The Yangoru Boiken, who live in the same region as the Meakambut are settled horticulturalists but...

The Yangoru Boiken, who live in the same region as the Meakambut are settled horticulturalists but meat is hard to find in this remote area. Large fruit bats such as this one caught by Marcus Paringu are one of the few sources of protein and – served with rice – can feed up to 12 people. Photo by Timothy Allen

Timothy Allen

Timothy Allen

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Aperture
ƒ/4.5
Exposure
1/80
ISO
640
Focal
50 mm

The Yangoru Boiken, who live in the same region as the Meakambut are settled horticulturalists but meat is hard to find in this remote area. Large fruit bats such as this one caught by Marcus Paringu are one of the few sources of protein and – served with rice – can feed up to 12 people.