I visited New Caledonia for work in July 2010 and of course spent a day looking for some of the very few mammals on New Caledonia.
I was working in Noumea, which is a strange mixture of the south of France and north Queensland, though the driving is better than the former, and the croissants are better than the latter. It is a lovely place but it hardly feels like the Pacific.
There are a few introduced mammals on the island, but the native species are all bats: 3 Flying Foxes, a Blossom bat, a Chalinobus and Nyctophilus species and a couple of Bentwings. And I could find virtually no information about where to see them, other than from Tim Flannery’s “Mammals of the South West Pacific & Moluccan Islands”. Luckily I had a contact on the island – Gerald Haberkorn, an Australian working for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community – who offered to help. His network stretches far and wide but even he was struggling to find any places where I could find some bats, other than dead ones in the market (the Rousettus, as they are locally known, are a delicacy here and I heard rumours you can even get bat paté). At one point he had a hot tip of a colony at La ferme de Pierrat close to Noumea. But then the message came through “someone shot the roussettes’ nest in « La ferme de Pierrat », therefore they flew away”. Classic. New Caledonia was starting to feel more like the Pacific.
But Gerald was undeterred and with the help of his colleague Gladys he discovered that Madame Mediara from the Ouipoint Tribe had a guide who knew the forest and could probably find a Fruit Bat camp. So off I went.
The Ouipoint community is about 2 hours from Noumea (or 30 minutes NE of La Foa). It’s a nice place to stay. They have a traditional long house sort of thing where you can sleep, complete with flushing toilet and shower.
Mme Mediara’s son – Fred – took me into the forest. We walked and climbed for about an hour before we came to a small camp of Ornate Flying Foxes (possibly the rarest of the megabats on New Caledonia, at least that is what Tim Flannery thought when he wrote his book). I guess there were between 30 and 40 bats in a large “Banyou” fig tree – well that’s what Fred called it – in a gully. And though they were a little bit agitated by our presence, especially when we smoked a cigarette, they stayed put until a nearby tree fell down, at which point they scarpered. Given the hunting pressure on them I was quite surprised that they were so approachable, though the Ouipoint forest is a reserve and perhaps the tribe police it well, though there were plenty of shotgun cartridges along the trail.
The bats move roost depending on where the fruit are, but Fred will probably know if they are around. You can contact Mme Mediara through the La Foa tourist office Tel: 41.69.11. Fred also recognised pictures of the Pacific Flying Fox and New Caledonia Flying Fox though he did not know of any current camps.
I took a walk at night and there were several microbats hawking around the lights on the rugby field, as well as others flying around the forest tracks. I wouldn’t like to guess which species they were.
We don’t have any reports for this area yet. Please submit one.
Please email me if you have tips for mammal watching in this area.