A banyan tree near prison is home to over 1,500 fruit bats

A unique occurrence in the district, forest officials say it must be studied

Thickly wooded Bagayam Road connects Vellore town with its outskirts towards Arani. The road has limited users, mostly highway travelers and goods laden lorries, and has more police checkpoints than shops as the Central Prison is located on it.

The secluded nature of the stretch makes it an ideal hunting ground for short-nosed fruit bats (Cynopterus brachyotis), which have been roosting on the decades-old banyan tree growing along the Central Prison’s high walls. More than 1,500 fruit bats occupy the branches of the giant tree, protecting them from the midday sun.

“These bats are found mainly in the banyan tree near the prison complex. They are not found anywhere else in the district in such large numbers. We have to study them,” Prince Kumar, District Forest Office (DFO), Vellore, told The Hindu.

Villagers near Bagayam, a reserve forest, said these fruit bats were found mainly in that particular banyan tree despite the tree being found in many areas within the forest. A few year ago, only a few hundred bats were spotted in the tree. They then multiplied fast, occupying most of the huge tree. During festivals, including Deepavali, residents near the reserve forest area do not burst crackers to avoid harming the bats that roost in the banyan tree. Tracing the possible reasons for the fruit bats to settle in the banyan tree, biologists said these animals usually prefer tall fruit trees like tamarind, neer marudhu (Arjun tree), cluster fig tree and banyan trees. The thick foliage in these trees also helps them roost without disturbances, prevents them from being spotted by predators, including humans, and provides them with much-needed shade. “The scent of their ancestors might be the a reason for the bats to roost in the banyan tree near the prison complex. Previous generations might have made their home in the tree. They are mammals who like to live in groups,” said G. Kamaraj, senior biologist, Arignar Anna Zoological Park.

As they prefer to live in groups, forest officials said they were careful in picking trees for roosting. The bats roost in the daytime and go out in search of food after dark. On an average, each fruit bat weighs from 0.75-1 kg.

Their sense of smell is also well-developed to trace their food, which usually consists of nectar, flowers, pollen and fruits like mango, sapota, jackfruit, gooseberry, guava.

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