One Look Up Could Have Ended This Photographer’s Life

On assignment in a cave teeming with bats and snakes, Joel Sartore thought he knew the dangers. But the real threat came when he stepped outside.

Several years ago, on assignment for National Geographic, I ventured inside a cave in Uganda to photograph a roost of roughly 100,000 Egyptian fruit bats. The bats are common throughout Africa, but this cave was special—shaped like an arch with light shining in at both ends. The rock ceiling was low, which meant the bats would be close and the shooting relatively easy.

I wore a respirator as a precaution. The only real danger, I thought, would come from the pythons and forest cobras slinking across the cave floor as they hunted for downed bats. I would be fine if I just watched my step. Or so I thought.

After working for a few hours, I exited the cave at dusk, packed up my gear, and began the long hike back to the road with my guide. I was filthy and tired but excited about the images I’d just taken and the fact that the bats didn’t seem to mind my being there.

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