CHAPTER IV. A BAT CAVE IN THE BIG RAVINE
We worked hard for serow but the men were hopeless and it was impossible to "still hunt" the animals at that time of the year. The natives say that in September when the mushrooms are abundant in the lower forests the serow leave the mountain tops and thick cover to feed upon the fungus, and that they may be killed without the aid of beaters, but at any time the hunt would involve a vast amount of labor with only a moderate chance of success. After we had left Fukien, Mr. Caldwell purchased a fine male and female serow for us which are especially interesting as they represent a different subspecies ( Capricornis sumatrensis argyrochcaetes) from those we killed in Yuen-nan.
Chi-yuen-kang did yield us results, however, for we discovered a wonderful bat cave less than a mile from our temple. Its entrance was a low round hole half covered with vegetation, and opening into a high circular gallery; from this three long corridors branched off like fingers from the palm of a giant's hand. The cave was literally alive with bats. There must have been ten thousand and on the first day we killed a hundred, representing seven species and at least four genera. This was especially remarkable as it is unusual to find more than two or three species living together.
The cave was a regular bat apartment house for each corridor was divided by rock partitions into several small rooms in every one of which bats of different species were rearing their families. The young in most instances were only a few days old but were thickly clustered on the walls and ceilings, and each and every one was squeaking at the top of its tiny lungs. The place must have been occupied for scores, if not hundreds, of years for the floor was knee-deep with dung.
When we returned the day after our first visit we found that many of the young bats had been removed by their parents and in some instances entire rooms had been vacated. After the first day the odor of the cave was so nauseating that to enable us to go inside it was necessary to wear gauze pads of iodoform over our noses.
The bats at this place were killed with bamboo switches but later we always used a long gill net which had been especially made in New York. We could hang the net over the entrance to a cave and, when all was ready, send a native into the galleries to stir up the animals. As they flew out they became entangled in the net and could be caught or killed before they were able to get away. It was sometimes possible to catch every specimen in a cavern, and moreover, to secure them in perfect condition without broken skulls or wings.
If a bat escaped from the net it would never again strike it, for the animals are wonderfully accurate in flight and most expert dodgers. Even while in a cave, where hundreds of bats were in the air, they seldom flew against us, although we might often be brushed by their wings; and it was a most difficult thing to hit them with a bamboo switch. Their ability in dodging is without doubt a necessary development of their feeding habits for, with the exception of a few species, bats live exclusively upon insects and catch them in the air.
It is a rather terrifying experience for a girl to sit in a bat cave especially if the light has gone out and she is in utter darkness. Of course she has a cap tightly pulled over her ears, for what girl, even if she be a naturalist's wife, would venture into a den of evil bats with one wisp of hair exposed!
All about is the swish of ghostly wings which brush her face or neck and the air is full of chattering noises like the grinding of hundreds of tiny teeth. Sometimes a soft little body plumps into her lap and if she dares to take her hands from her face long enough to disengage the clinging animal she is liable to receive a vicious bite from teeth as sharp as needles. But, withal, it is good fun, and think how quickly formalin jars or collecting trays can be filled with beautiful specimens!