Philippine Fruit Bats – Bats in the Philippines

The Philippines has at least 56 species of bats. It is home to the smallest and the largest bats among the 1,000 known species in the world.

The smallest bat in the world is the Philippine bamboo bat (vespertilionid) which belongs to the vespertilionid family. This bat measures about four centimeters (1 1/2 inches) in length and has a wingspan of 15 cm. Approximately, it weighs 1.5 grams (1/20 ounce).

The three-layered virgin forest of Subic Bay provides home to the world’s largest bats: the giant flying fox (Acerodon jubatus) and the golden crown flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus). Over the years, these two species of giant fruit bats have roamed around the 10,000-hectare Subic Forest National Protected Area, which is considered the biggest roosting site of bats in the world.

An ordinary giant flying fox weighs up to 2.5 pounds (1.1 kilograms), heavier than a golden crown flying fox. The golden crown measures six feet in wingspan, the largest among all bats. The giant flying fox and the golden crown are just two of the 15 species of fruit bats in the country.

On any ordinary afternoon inside the Cubi Area of the Subic Forest, one can have a good view of the fruit bats which look like oversized black fruits hanging from almost bald trunks of palosapis, tanguile, yakal and apitong trees. These fruit bats stay in groups until they have eaten up all the fruits within the area.

These bats disperse thousands of seeds a night throughout the forest floor. There are more than 300 plant species that rely on the pollinating and seed dispersal services of bats. Some of these plants include bananas, mangoes, avocados and cashews. They also leave guano, one of the best natural fertilizers available to man.

Because of centuries of myth and superstition, bats are among the world’s least appreciated and most endangered animals. There were 100,000 fruit bats in the Subic Forest in the 1930s. But due to hunting and human activities within the area, this number went down to only a few thousands today. Yet, Subic fruit bats are considered luckier than the other bats in the country.

Fruit bats are hunted by man for food. They are considered a delicacy in many regions in the country. Commercial fruit farmers drive bats away because they consider them as troublesome pests. This led to the extinction of some species of Philippine bats like the bare-backed fruit bat or Dobsonia chapmani, which reportedly disappeared from the forests of Negros and Cebu in 1964 and the Panay fruit bat or Acerodon Lucifer which was last seen in 1892. The Philippine tube-nosed bat, Nyctimene rabori of Negros is considered highly endangered. Scientists warned that this breed will disappear before 2015 unless action is taken to protect its remaining population.

The Subic fruit bats are also deemed in danger. The bats are moving around a 50-kilometer feeding ground in Subic and Bataan where there are 450 plant species. They pollinate the forest but in their flight for food, they fall prey to hunters. The diminishing population of fruit trees in the area also threatens their population.

The best way to save these fruit bats is to replenish the stock of fruit trees in the area. Right now, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority and the Pilipinas Shell foundation are actively involved in a bat habitat reforestation project. The two institutions hope that this project will help deter the threat of extinction of the Subic fruits bats.

But the fate of the Subic fruits bats rests entirely on the participation of the people living in the area. The success of the project will only be possible if the people recognize the importance of co-existence with the fruit bats. The same applies in other areas which remain to participate in the campaign to save these misunderstood creatures.

The Filipino people have to realize that these bats are found only in the Philippines.

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