I greatest “thanks!” goes to Nicola Messina, who was my guide in Borneo. An awesome companion to have on your side when traveling.

I also thanks my friend and colleague Francesco Tomasinelli, who’s always on my side when I propose to go swimming into guano and mud for critters sake.

For more info about visiting Borneo’s caves:

Mulu National Park website

Gomantong caves

Life into the underground: a Borneo’s story

Deep into the caves systems of Malaysian Borneo live a multitude of amazing creatures. Here life is possible for two reasons only: bats and swifts

It’s almost night at Mulu Caves as well as at the Gomantong caves, when a river of more than 3 millions bats begins its flow from the darkness of the underground, to the darkness of night. They’ll be looking for insects, for the energy that sustains both them and their spawn.
Meanwhile, through the same opening, thousands of swifts retire from their daily hunting routine, to get back to their nest and prepare for the night.

This continuous flow of life in and out these caves brings energy into some of the most amazing places on Earth: the Bornean caves.

When approaching the entrance the smell of ammonia becomes tangible and once inside, the reason why is well displayed in front of our eyes. Tons of guano cover the floor of the caves, from the entrance to the deepest sides. Guano is the bats and swift waste, still rich on nutrients for those who know how to use it.

And here they are, all over the place, under our shoes, on the wooden path. Millions of cockroaches of various species (mostly Periplaneta australasiae), beetles (mostly darkling beetles belonging to the Family Tenebrionidae) and even crabs living in a small stream flowing out of the Gomantong cave entrance. There are also predators, like giant centipedes (Thereuopoda sp.), spiders (Psechrus sp.) and sticky fly larvae on the darker corners.

It’s a vibrating world this one, where everywhere there’s something happening and the high pitched chirps of bats and swift is the soundtrack that covers every other sound. Above’s life, on the ceiling, where the colonies congregate to cuddle and feed their pups and chicks. Down’s death, guano and decomposition. But this also means survival for every smaller creature that here can find a place to prosper, by consuming other’s waste. I felt no horror while into this darkness, but a strange sense of distance from the outside and a huge sense of marvel for all the things I had the chance to witness with my torch. A unique way to stare at the continuous circle of life in a single, dark, place.

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