Flying fox hunting

Flying fox hunting remains a prevalent activity in Indonesia, particularly in Sumatra. Aceh, the northernmost province, is the epicenter of the trade in Flying fox meat. Locals believe that this meat possesses qualities to alleviate asthma, although this claim lacks medical substantiation. Despite this, it perseveres within the local perception.

The ‘large flying fox’ (Pteropus vampyrus) is also known as the Greater Flying Fox, Malaysian Flying Fox, Large Fruit Bat, or Kalong. Its description and ecology can be found under this link.

The author was on Siberut island, off the coast of Padang in West Sumatra province in Indonesia, with the Mentawai people. The Mentawais only had Sago sticks and Taro left for food, so they went into the forest to find some protein. And they allowed me to join them on their hunt.

Where to find Flying foxes?

Durian tree in flower

Flying foxes mainly live from fruits, nectar, and flowers of trees. And in December each year (when I was there), wild Durian trees flower, attracting these animals. We saw three Flying foxes roosting about 20 m from the forest floor on one of the Durian trees next to a Mentawai hunting camp.

Shooting Flying-foxes

When we saw these Fruit bats, our leader Aman Aru was getting highly excited and shot a poisoned arrow towards one of the bats. The arrow pierced one wing, and the bat flew away with the arrow still stuck in its wing. See the video below.

After flying a distance of about 100 meters, the Flying fox settled on a clump of bamboo, and Aman Aru sent another two arrows toward this bat. One arrow hit its body, and another one pieced from under the chin of its skull. The dead bat fell into a poison leaf plant and had to be carefully retrieved with hooked sticks.

After retrieving the bat, the poison leaf stings had to be treated with camphor ointment, which Aman Aru always carries in his loincloth bag. This was a simple and fast hunt for my Mentawai friends, and they were looking forward to eating the bat as soon as possible.

Mentawai after having shot a Flying fox, Fruit bat

Preparation of Flying foxes for food by Mentawai people

After returning to the Uma from Flying fox hunting, all the hairs of the bat were burned off. The charred body was after that washed clean and gutted. The whole bat – including wing skins – was cut into manageable pieces, put into the only iron pot in the Uma, covered with water, and boiled extensively at high temperature.

After cooking the bat, its pieces were divided into three portions: one for Aman Aru and his wife, one for his brother-in-law, and one for my Mentawai interpreter and myself. A bowl of soup was served with lots of fried sago sticks and a plate of Flying Fox meat. As a bonus of the day, we also received a small portion of salt on our plate.

Cooked Flying fox, Fruit bat meat on a plate

In all other parts of Indonesia, flying foxes are skinned, and only the meat is eaten. Not with the Mentawais. They eat everything. Every piece of meat is covered in a thick layer of black bat skin. And they even like to chew the wing skin—which is super tough and without any meat.

Personal experience when eating the Flying Fox meat

I thought I was clever and chose a roll of dark skin, which seemed to contain a healthy portion of muscle meat. Too late, I realized that I had the best friend of this male Flying fox in my mouth. This neither included meat nor bone but was just tough and chewy. Although I am very Survival-minded and eat everything with four legs – except wooden tables – I had to forget what I had in my mouth and chew. Afterward, the house lady shared the cooked Flying Fox brain with me, which tasted like any other animal brain, and I enjoyed it.

Flying foxes are known to host a variety of viruses and diseases, including the Hendra virus, Nipah virus, rabies, and many others. Before eating any parts of this bat, I assured myself that everything I had eaten was cooked thoroughly.

Lessons learned from Flying fox hunting:

  • Flying foxes are easy hunting prey for Mentawai people during times of Durian flowering.
  • Mentawais can accurately shoot the heavy longbow and hit small targets.
  • Flying foxes will taste better if the skin will be removed before eating.
  • A flying fox’s brain tastes like a pig’s brain after cooking.

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