Bat colony to battle Missionvale mozzies

Arnold Slabbert, of Urban Raptor, bolts a bat box to a pylon
Picture: Judy de Vega

A string of state-of-the-art bat caves were being bolted to electricity pylons in Missionvale yesterday in a revolutionary initiative to combat the area’s rampant mosquito plague.

A team was on site on ladders yesterday, battling the wind and attaching the custom-made wood and iron boxes to the pylons along the salt pans in what is believed to be the first project of its kind globally.

The project was sparked by a report in The Herald in January on the nearby Mackay’s Ground shack settlement, where the community is under siege from marauding hordes of mosquitos.

Urban Raptor stepped in, arguing that the solution was bats, not poison, which would only kill off the remaining natural mosquito predators and provide no long-term solution.

Dedisa Peaking Power committed to a sponsorship of R120 000, the metro gave the project its blessing and, while one or two residents voiced wariness about bats, most said they were happy to try anything that would get rid of the mosquitos.

The boxes, specially ribbed and grooved to allow the bats to alight and claw their way in and hang upside down, are being installed in good time for spring, when insect-eating Egyptian free-tailed and house bats will shrug off their winter torpor and start exploring for new roosts, Urban Raptor founder Arnold Slabbert said.

“Once some have moved in more will follow and we expect that in time a colony of several thousand should be established,” he said.

“A single bat can eat 130 mosquitos an hour – the equivalent per night of one person eating 50 pizzas, so you can imagine the impact of a large number of these little predators.

“Each one is not much bigger than your thumb and they like to roost snuggled together.

“Each box will fit about 250 bats and we’re putting up 20 boxes, so that’s at least 4 000 bats ready to take down mozzies.”

Dedisa chief operating officer Ajay Brijmohan said he was excited about the project, and “if it proves to be viable, we will definitely look at more initiatives like this”.

Marius van Heerden, from the electricity department, said he was there to ensure the boxes were not attached too high on the pylons within the danger-arc of the electricity lines.

“I can believe the mosquito problem this community is having,” he said.

“In the summer when my staff work on these pylons, we equip them with Tabard to try to keep away the mosquitos because they get bitten nonstop.”

Theft of the boxes for their galvanised iron parts is a concern but they are about 10m up and protected by a necklace of barbed wire that encircles the pylon beneath them.

The bats, once ensconced, will have no problem foraging across to Mackay’s Ground and surrounding residential areas, Slabbert said.

He was confident the bats would make a meal of the mosquitos, but said efforts should be made to fix sewage spills and leaking pipes, which encouraged the insects to breed.

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