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ScienceWise - Jan/Feb 2007

Tracking Bats

Article Illustration
Article Illustration
Dr Chris Tidemann today. He’s till interested in the biology of bats (that’s a bat skull he’s holding) but he no longer climbs trees to find them.

The two lads pictured above are discussing the pros and cons on how they’ll attach a tiny radio transmitter to a small bat. Radio telemetry is a common practice these days but back in 1984, when this image was taken, it was still a bit of an emerging art.

Dr Chris Tidemann, on the left, is the researcher studying the bats and he’s seen here with Mr Jim Bishop, a Senior Technical Officer. Both were in the Department of Botany and Zoology. Mr Bishop had just returned from an overseas trip to learn about the latest radio technology for biotelemetry.

“Jim’s holding a radio transmitter, and I’ve got a Gould’s Long Eared Bat,” says Dr Tidemann. “That picture was actually taken over in the vehicle compound of what’s now the School of Resources, Environment and Society. That area contained a large aviary where we kept a number of bats in a captive colony.

“It was part of an ecological study we were carrying out and we were looking at their activity, or lack of activity, over winter. When it gets cold they hibernate for part of the time, and we were looking at the relation between activity and temperature.

“What I was doing was radio tracking these things to find out where they were roosting. So, I’d catch wild ones out in the bush and glue those little transmitters onto them with superglue and they’d stay on for about 10 days. That’d be long enough to find where they were roosting.

“I used to climb up the trees to find out where the roosts were. You can triangulate from the ground and find out reasonably accurately where the signals coming from, and then I’d fire a sling shot line up the tree and pull up a rope ladder up.”

Dr Tidemann is now a Visiting Fellow at the School of Resources, Environment and Society. He’s one of Australia’s leading experts on microbats, flying foxes and in recent years he’s devoted much of his time to research ways of managing the Indian Myna, a highly adaptable pest bird that is a significant threat to native birds and mammals because it out competes them for limited nest hollows in trees.

Is he still climbing trees looking for bats?

“No way mate,” he says. “I fell out of a tree about 10 years ago which was a rude shock to the system. I remember as I was falling out I was thinking to myself that I don’t fall out of trees – I don’t climb trees anymore.”

The photo was provided by the ANU Archives Program. It was taken by Ivan Fox and originally appeared in the ANU Reporter. For more info on the ANU Archives Program see

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