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Thai farmers look to bats as free, flying food
Thailand Bat Villag 5180074
Villagers from Baan Toom, Thailand, in the northeastern province of Kalasin, display their bat catching abilities Monday, July 14, 2008. - photo by Associated Press
    BAAN TOOM, Thailand — While movie fans the world over rave about the new Batman film, the only stir bats are causing in this poor farming village is in a cooking pot.
    They’ve been scarfing bats down in Baan Toom for as long as anyone can remember, roasting the little, flying beasts on spits over charcoal fires or mincing them up into a traditional Thai dish.
    The farmers say the meat is delicious, and, with a big smile, they claim it also gives them sexual powers.
    While their hamlet appears idyllic, it sits in the northeastern province of Kalasin, the poorest region in Thailand, where local officials say incomes average barely $70 a month. The lack of money means few comforts, and the work in the paddy fields is backbreaking and hot.
    But there are compensations, the villagers say — the abundance of free food.
    When the farmers fancy something different for dinner, they leave their rice seedlings, wade out of the bath-warm paddies, grab a net and long poles and go bat hunting.
    The quarry is a creature of habit and it takes just a few minutes to reach the bats’ regular hangouts — the sugar-palm trees that shade the dikes above this water-logged landscape.
    Before springing the trap, Kamgong Phunasee chants an incantation in the local dialect, asking the bats’ forgiveness for what awaits them. The 66-year-old says he doesn’t know the proper Thai to translate his words — they are magic words learned from his father and grandfather.
    There is nothing magical about the hunt. The farmers crash poles into the trees and bats tumble down into the waiting net in a cascade of broken foliage and flapping wings.
    ‘‘It’s not hard to catch them. They just fall right out of the tree. Other times we smoke them out,’’ says Supan Insang, the group’s ‘‘Batcatcher-General,’’ who claims to have bagged as many as 200 in a single day.
    But it’s slim pickings on this day, just a half dozen squealing and struggling in the mesh. He blames the presence of journalists.
    The hunted species is called ‘‘kangkhao noo,’’ or ‘‘mouse bat,’’ because of its small size.
    It doesn’t look like much of a meal, but Kamgong insists the bats are quite tasty and, he adds, provide sexual benefits for the old men who consume them so voraciously.
    ‘‘They do wonders for your libido and they give you stamina. And if you have them with traditional medicine, they boost your performance,’’ he says, laughing.
    The men prepare the bats without sentimentality. The creatures are plunged into boiling water. Once dead, they’re plucked of their fur and roasted on glowing charcoal, wings, guts and all. The chopped-up meat is mixed with fresh herbs, a little sugar and spicy paste and then fried.
    Still, this could be the last generation to hunt bats for food in Baan Toom, which translates as Closed Flower Village. Many people here seem to think like 14-year-old Peam Prachakul.
    ‘‘I’d never even think of eating bat. It’s too weird and I’d be scared to eat it,’’ the schoolboy says while watching his grandfather dig into a bowl of bat.
    Bats are known to carry diseases, including rabies. But the old farmers in Baan Toom don’t scare easily.
    ‘‘Bat meat, it’s so tender and sweet,’’ Kamsee Phuphala, 57, says between mouthfuls. ‘‘You can eat the whole thing.’’

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