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In Boracay, disappearing bats seen bad omen for environment

/ 08:13 PM April 10, 2012

ILOILO CITY—Boracay Island’s endangered fruit bats, the flying foxes, are in danger of completely disappearing as their numbers are rapidly declining because of several factors, among them the construction frenzy on the world famous resort island, according to a conservation group.

The Friends of the Flying Foxes (FFF), a Boracay-based nongovernment organization composed of volunteers, has reported that the number of flying foxes on the island has dropped to 740 based on the group’s count conducted on Feb. 23.

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The number is a sharp drop from the 15,000 bats counted in 1988 and 2,000 in 2005 by FFF and other conservation groups.

“This shows an alarming decline by 95 percent,” said Julia Lervik, FFF president. “Disturbance and capturing (of the bats) have been the main causes of decline through the years. But now, with only 740 remaining bats, we have to take action before it is too late,” she said.

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Lervik said her group planned to conduct more regular counts because bat numbers vary depending on the weather, wind condition and the bats’ breeding cycle. She said, though, that the continued and rapid decline of bat numbers was undeniable.

The population of flying foxes, so-called because they resemble foxes with wings, is concentrated at the northern hills of Barangay Yapak in the 1,032-hectare Boracay Island.

Conservationists have identified three bat species in Boracay. They include the golden-crowned flying fox (Aceradon jubatus), which is endemic to the Philippines but has been categorized as among endangered species worldwide under the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

The others are the giant fruit bat (Pteropus vampyrus) and the small flying fox (Pteropus hypomelanus).

FFF said bats perform essential roles in pollinating plants and keeping the insect population under control. A bat generally feeds on thousands of mosquitoes every night.

Bat droppings also help fertilize the ground and support plant and tree growth especially in Boracay’s few remaining forest covers. Some of the fruit bats stay in Boracay every night to feed, but most fly to the forests of Panay and are responsible for the dispersing of seeds of around 95 percent of the forest in Panay, according to FFF.

The flying foxes are also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Boracay. Tourists would wait by the beach at sunset for thousands of bats that fly together 40 km from their roosting sites on the island to the Aklan mainland to feed on fruits from forest trees.

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But through the years, as development on the island continued unregulated, bats can be rarely seen in their daily flights from the island.

Lervik said FFF cannot yet identify the exact reason for the current decline in the number of bats or if there is new development that has affected their habitat.

“But generally it’s the overall development that is the biggest reason, as the bats don’t get the rest they need in their roost,” she said.

Bats feed at night and sleep during the day and they hang on tall trees in lowland forests and live in a colony. But they are easily stressed out by noise due to human activity and other animals like monkeys.

Lervik said bats are often referred to by conservationists as “bio-indicators.”

“This term means that bats reflect the overall health of the ecosystem. So, the decline indicates a stressed ecosystem,” she said.

FFF has repeatedly asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to create a wildlife sanctuary in Barangay Yapak as a roosting site for the bats and as a protected area for other wildlife, including turtles, lizards and monkeys.

“It’s a treasure we should protect and be proud of. Sadly nothing has happened so far,” Lervik said.

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TAGS: Bats, Boracay Island, environment
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