Media & Education
Volume 35, Issue 2, 2016
A Safe Space for Flying Foxes
Bat conservationists succeed in setting aside 1,300 hectares for endangered species
When it comes to bat conservation, some people just don’t get it. Perhaps Executive Director Merlijn van Weerd from the Mabuwaya Foundation said it best:
“Bats are not cuddly animals like pandas that everybody loves. Many people fear bats, or find them ugly or dirty, or just don’t care what happens with them. The people that care most about flying foxes are the hunters that kill them for food or trade.”
In the northern region of the Philippines Islands, people care a lot about bats…some, for the right reasons.
In 2013, members of the Mabuwaya Foundation in the northeastern Philippines came across a fantastic discovery: a flying fox roosting site. The site was found in an isolated part of northern Luzon—the largest and most populous island in the Philippines. Edmund Jose, a local biologist, took the lead in conducting bat surveys in the area. His research suggested that up to 35,000 flying foxes inhabit the roost, including the large flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus) and the endemic golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatus).
Like most threatened and endangered species, the large flying fox and golden-crowned flying fox are on the defensive. As a result of deforestation and illegal and uncontrolled hunting, many species on the island are at risk of extinction more than anywhere else in the world. Coupled with agricultural encroachment and large infrastructure projects, many flying foxes are losing their forest real estate to humans at an exponential rate. With funding from BCI, members of the Mabuwaya Foundation hoped to reverse the damage being done.
Change came in October of 2015. After extensive lobbying efforts, Joni Acay, Tess Gatan-Balbas and Merlijn van Weerd from the Mabuwaya Foundation convinced the municipal government and local community to set aside 1,300 hectares for the roosting site.
Although the flying fox sanctuary will provide protection on paper, the next step is to establish good environmental monitoring and firm law enforcement. Local hunters who were previously killing flying foxes will be trained as “Sanctuary Guards,” and will receive government incentives for following the ordinance and protecting the roosting site. This approach is by no means unique: The Filipinos for Flying Foxes initiative, launched by Tammy Mildenstein (Cornell College), Mabuwaya Foundation, Philippine Biodiversity Foundation and BCI, have been successfully using it throughout the Philippines to establish other sanctuaries for nearly a decade.
But the battle is ongoing. Raising awareness and promoting bat conservation needs to take place on a grander scale. Protecting roosting sites is very important, but stopping hunters from foraging flying foxes outside sanctuary bounds is of equal importance.
For BCI, the steps taken to provide endangered flying foxes safe refuge are extraordinary.
“Declaration of the Baggao Flying Fox Sanctuary is an amazing achievement of the Mabuwaya Foundation and demonstrates their capacity to achieve flying fox conservation under very challenging circumstances,” said Dave Waldien, Senior Director of Global Conservation. “Their knowledge and passion make them a powerful force for conservation in the Philippines, and we hope to share more inspiring stories of their successes in the near future.”
For van Weerd, the sanctuary is a start.
“The fact that a local government decided to protect such a large forest area specifically for bats, and also put emphasis on stopping the hunting of bats, is a big step forward in flying fox conservation in the Philippines.”
Although there’s still a lot of work to be done, bats owe much thanks to BCI and their partners—Ensemble Foundation, Disney Conservation, IUCN Save Our Species and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Without Borders-Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Fund—who have led the charge in protecting bats at home, and around the world.
Expand bat education in the Philippines
Help BCI raise awareness about the importance of bats among local Filipino communities. Help us raise the $20,000 needed to create educational videos to encourage local communities to stop hunting bats. These video tools will aid local education campaigns in Luzon and across the Philippines. Please visit batcon.org/encourage to donate.
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