When we set out for our weekend search, we had just a few things in hand- a description of two specimens, incomplete GPS coordinates, which would land us in an unknown location near Kolar, and the bleak hope that we still haven’t lost the endemic bat… The Kolar leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros hypophyllus) was discovered fairly recently, in 1994, by taxonomist Dieter Kock and virologist H.R. Bhat from Kolar. It is endemic to South India and is known from only two localities in Kolar district (Hanumanhalli and Therhallli) and one locality in Mysore. Individuals of this species were collected from a narrow subterranean cave, in granite rocks in the year 1994, and the roost was shared with three other species – the Fulvous leaf-nosed bat (H. fulvus), Schneider’s leaf-nosed bat (H. speoris) and Dusky leaf-nosed bat (H. ater). Paul Bates and David Harrison, in their noteworthy book Bats of the Indian Subcontinent have provided detailed morphological and anatomical descriptions of two specimens deposited at the British Natural History Museum. This was the only reference material available till date on the bat, apart from brief notes on the ecology of the species given by Kock and Bhat. In 2002, Conservation Assessment and Management Plan (CAMP) workshop which was organized by Zoo Outreach, (an organization based in Coimbatore) came up with a detailed report on the status of South Asian bats. However, the workshop could shed little light on the current status and distribution of the Kolar bat, thus highlighting a major gap in assessment since its discovery. This lack of attention that the Kolar bat has suffered from instigated us to use an extended weekend in January to embark on an exploratory visit to Hanumanhalli (15km east of Kolar town). This was the village from where the type specimen of the Kolar bat was described. After a few hours of walking through the countryside and enquiring with locals using what were the only two words we knew in Kannada – guhe (caves) and bavali (bats) (often enacting a cave sequence!), we were directed to a monolithic granite structure where, granite miners obliged us by showing two narrow subterranean caves. The strong stench of guano at the cave mouth was indicative of the presence of bats, and we were not disappointed. As we lay on the sloping, guano-littered cave floor and crawled as far as the narrow width of the cave permitted, we could see a colony of about 200 leaf-nosed bats under the torchlight. With considerable effort, we managed to click some pictures. Most of the bats that had come in our photographs were Fulvous leaf-nosed bats, but in general, such large colonies are assemblages of two or more species like Schneider’s, Dusky and Cantor’s leaf-nosed bats (H. galeritus).

Granite Cave Subterranean Granite Cave

However, the important question remains unanswered. After 19 years of non-discovery and inattention, do the Kolar bats still exist in these caves? More importantly, if they do, will they survive the rampant granite mining? Since access is difficult, we inferred that mist netting at the cave mouth when the bats emerge during dusk is the only way to ascertain the existence of the Kolar bat. We spoke to some labourers at the mining site and they said that the bats had been present in the cave for a long time now. They also claimed that granite mining had been on for the last 35 years. However, it is difficult to believe this claim as otherwise the mine would have, by now, been exhausted! It will not be too long, though, before miners reach the base of the hill and into the cave. If the Kolar bat is rediscovered in these caves, it would need urgent attention. Unabated granite mining should be stopped for protection of its diurnal roost, alongside conducting further exploration to identify other potential roosts.

JCB A JCB on the mine

Workers at mine site Labourers at the mining site near the cave

In spite of being the most species-rich mammalian order in India, attention towards bats has been scarce. Being lost in incognizance is not a fate exclusive to the Kolar bat. It is a story shared by three other endemic bats from different parts of the country. It would be unfortunate if these species were to go extinct; for it is one thing to lose a species while you were trying to protect it, and another to lose it while you were still oblivious of its presence.

Postscript : Following the publication of our article in Sanctuary Asia (August, 2013), the Kolar leaf-nosed bat was rediscovered at the same site by a team of researchers from Osmania University, Hyderabad. The team additionally found the Khajuria’s leaf-nosed bat, which was lost in oblivion since its discovery in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh in 1975! Meanwhile, another bat that was hitherto endemic to Karnataka- the Wroughton’s free-tailed bat was discovered right across the country in Meghalaya! These significant discoveries not only highlight the need for extensive surveys but also reinstate hope that our endemic bats may not be lost. On the other hand, the only known population of the Kolar bat is still threatened by granite mining. It is a long battle to be fought – not only against illegal granite mining but also to recognize the role of bats as pollinators, seed dispersers and insect pest controllers, and to award them the protection that they deserve – if we are to protect the only endemic mammal of Karnataka.