There is a spectacle in my adoptive city of Accra – a phenomenon that engulfs many mysteries and folklore abounds about it.
At one particular intersection, above the military hospital, in about 20 trees, there are bats. Millions of bats. They swirl and shriek and hang up side down in the trees all day every day. At times they fill the sky at this traffic light, blackening the sky with their sheer numbers.
Bats. Bats are hideous. All my life the only thought I ever had about bats was that they lived in dark damp caves and looked like flying mini wild boars with Devil fangs.
I guess all that is still true, but in Ghana they fly above the trees at one place only and they represent something intriguing – a mystery.
The bats are a phenomenon that you inevitably hear about and whenever you drive by this intersection you definitely notice. And no matter how many years you live in Accra, you just never get used to it. It’s just not something you take for granted whenever you are in the area and the sky is chocker block full of the web winged creatures.
Why? You have to ask what on earth lured this massive colony of bats to these relatively few trees in one random area of the city, when there are thousands of other trees and neighborhoods where not a bat can be found.
There are hundreds of stories of why the bats have come to these particular trees. Most of the stories centre around a certain chief and the belief is that the bats followed him from his region, where bats are the totem, and highly revered. They still wait for him outside the hospital, years after he died there.
This is a fun and romantic way to look at it, but scientists surely have a better idea? Something logical? Sane? Not. Unfortunately things just don’t work in that straightforward sensible way in Accra, nor Ghana as a whole. The grey zones outnumber the black and white answers. The bats live in the grey zone.
BBC visited in 2006 and wrote an inconsequential article about the bats defecating on the cars and the hospital building. They never asked the big questions of why!?
I could only find one other article about the bats and it was a contribution by a romantic Ghanaian who took the grey way and extolled the virtues of the bats, believing they were indeed there following their chief…
Today as we drove under the bat trees and watched them circle – it was not the usual activity that caught my eye. Today there were chainsaws and workmen and chaos. Someone - the forces that be I suppose – has decided to cut down or at least severely cut back the majestic trees that house our bats! The sides of the street today were like mass graves of wood – chunks of tree trunks and leaves, piled anonymously and uncaringly down the boulevard. What of the bats? Their housing has been cut in half. Their shelter from the sun removed. What will they do? Where will they go?
I can’t wait to see the developments. In Ghana it has to be said that the trees are resilient. They will grow back and will be sprouting up within weeks, replenished in months. However not soon enough to repair the damage that has been done today to the home of the bats. It’s grey against black now, science against folklore – the bats against the chainsaws. If they disappear then I have no choice but to believe the chief claimed their souls to join him. If they’ve moved a few trees down, science will win this battle, but only partly… stay tuned.