Wild animals

BBC documentary sheds light on Chile’s mysterious vampire bat

“The Dark: Nature's Nighttime World” uses cutting-edge technology to film the nocturnal habits of pumas in Patagonia and humpbacks off the Strait of Magellan.

Friday, September 27, 2013  
New documentary captures the secret life of Chile’s bats. Photo by Pip Wilson / Flickr New documentary captures the secret life of Chile’s bats. Photo by Pip Wilson / Flickr

 

Off the coast of arid Northern Chile, deep in the bowels of caves of uninhabited islands, hang thousands of infamous, bloodsucking predators.

The reputation of the vampire bat is legendary, but much of its habits remain a mystery — not least because of its nocturnal lifestyle.

So when in late 2011 the BBC contacted Marcelo Flores, professor at the Universidad Andrés Bello, to find out what animals it should explore in a documentary series using the latest technology in thermal imagery and infrared cameras, the answer was simple.

“I told that them that [the vampire bats’] nocturnal habits had never before been filmed,” he told La Tercera. “We supposed that they attacked sea lions and Humboldt penguins, but it had never been recorded.”

“The Dark: Nature's Nighttime World” is a three-part nature series produced by the BBC Natural History Unit. It assembled a team of biologists, mammal experts and wildlife filmmakers, taking them on expeditions in Central and South America to film animals at night.

The third and final episode of the series is called “Patagonian Mountains,” in which the team splits into three groups to track three different species.

Large mammal expert Bryson Voirin and Justine Evans tracked pumas in Torres del Paine National Park, which is home to the highest concentration of the big cats on the planet. Further south, Gordon Buchanan dived into the icy waters off the Strait of Magellan to unravel the mystery of why humpback whales move into kelp forests close to the shore at night.

Meanwhile, biologist George McGavin was tasked with heading to Northern Chile to investigate the mysterious feeding patterns of a colony of vampire bats (Desmodus Rotundus) in the islands off Parque Pan de Azúcar.

By attaching a radio transmitter to one of the animals and filming its nocturnal habits, McGavin successfully confirmed the theory that penguins and sea lions were the bats’ primary prey — and also managed to shed light on how the bats go about their unsavoury nighttime meals.

They found out, for example, that when the bats attack sea lions, they do so in packs.

“This way, while some distract the sea lion, others use the opportunity to bite it,” said Flores.

Fortunately for visitors to Parque Pan de Azúcar, Chile has no recorded vampire bat attacks on humans.

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