Flying Lemur of the Philippines

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Flying Lemur
(Cynocephalus volans)

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One of the most distinct creatures on Earth lives in the Philippines. It doesn't have wings but it can glide across 100 meters of space in a single leap.

This animal is in danger of extinction and therefore can rarely be spotted in the tropical forests of Visayas and Mindanao. Like the lemurs of Asia, it moves around at night. Its head resembles that of a dog while its body has similarities with the flying squirrel of Canada.

In Mindanao, people call it "kagwang". Around the world, it is known as colugo or the flying lemur. Zoologists, however, claim that it doesn't fly and it is not a lemur, a large-eyed nocturnal mammal found only in Madagascar and Comoro Islands. The truth is that kagwang or Cynocephalus volans is one of only two species belonging to the primitive order Dermoptera. The other species is the Cynocephalus variegatus or the flying lemur of Malaysia.

An ordinary kagwang weighs from 1 to 1.7 kilogram and ranges in length from 14 to 17 inches. It has a wide head with small ears and big eyes. Being a fast climber and glider, kagwang has large feet, webbed and clawed. Its 12-inch tail is connected by a patagium, a membrane stretching from forelimbs to tail. This well-developed membrane enables kagwang to glide to a distance of 100 meters or more to escape from predators like the Philippine Eagle. It also has 34 teeth that are considered peculiar.

Although these teeth resemble those of carnivores, kagwang's diet consists mainly of fruits, flowers, buds and leaves. During the daytime, it stays inside hollow trees or clings to branches and trunks with dense foliage, making them hard to spot. It travels fast and covers wide distances through gliding in the forest.

The continuous denudation of tropical forests in the country threatens the remaining population of kagwang which used to abound in the wilderness of Basilan, Leyte, Samar, Bohol and Mindanao.

It is completely arboreal and inhabit multi-layered rainforests in hilly areas. It prefers to hunt for food at coconut, banana and rubber plantations where it eats the productive flowers and fruits of the trees. Because of this, kagwang is hunted and driven away by plantation workers.

Hunters are also after kagwang's flesh which is considered a delicacy. Its fur, on the other hand, is a raw material for native caps. Kagwang also fall prey to wild animals, foremost of which is the Philippine Eagle which was declared as the country's national bird in 1997. It is said that the meat of kagwang comprises 90% of the eagle's diet.

The exact number of the remaining kagwangs remains to be determined. Alarmed by the situation, the Philippine government declared kagwang as an endangered species and banned its commercial exploitation. But the problem is far from over. The tropical forests, the only place where kagwang can live, continue to shrink.

A challenge to the government and the people is how to secure the existence of kagwang, which by the way is found only in the Philippines.

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