Camiguin targets island bats as tourist attractions

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FLYING NEIGHBORS A colony of around 500 golden-crowned flying foxes, known to the locals as “kabug”, make their home at Barangay Poblacion in Catarman, Camiguin. Measures are now in place to protect them and their habitat. —JIGGER J. JERUSALEM

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Misamis Oriental, Philippines – Bats may have gotten a bad rap among suspected sources of the strain of coronavirus that caused infection in Wuhan, China, but tourism officials in one locality from the province of Camiguin want to exploit their thriving bat community as one of the few tourist attractions on the island.

Faced with the crippling effect of the pandemic on the local tourist economy, Camiguin opened up to leisure travelers on October 25 and continued to hatch projects, including letting them learn about the bat population. from the city of Catarman, to attract more visitors, now that a swab test would no longer be required for fully vaccinated people.

Residents of the peaceful Barangay Poblacion in the city of Catarman first noticed the colony of bats hanging out in two gigantic trees for about eight years. The trees, identified by people here as “doldol”, or silk cotton tree, and “antipolo” trees, stand near the barangay road where houses cluster around a public market, grocery stores and of restaurants.

Local officials now believe the flying mammals may be an added attraction on the island known for its white sand beaches, resort islands, springs, waterfalls, dive sites and other unique tourist drawers like the sunken cemetery.

Don Quililan, forest technician II of the Provincial Office of Environment and Natural Resources (Penro) in Camiguin, said the Catarman bats, called golden-crowned flying foxes or “kabug” in Cebuano, were considered the largest species of bat in the country, known to take up residence in trees.

“Judging by its size, a single bat can weigh anywhere from 400 grams to half a kilo,” said Catarman Mayor Kiterio Antonio Palarca II, who envisioned the bat colony’s potential as a that rare tourist attraction.

“During my travels through the country, I saw a colony populated [of bats] only in Subic. But what makes our bats here at Catarman different is that they live in the middle of a human community. That’s why we have to protect them,” Palarca said.

The Penro estimated that there were over 500 bats in the colony of Poblacion, although locals remember that there were only 200 bats when the colony first settled. . “Over the years, their population has almost tripled,” said resident Tony Longay.

Safe and protected

Why the bats chose to live in a populated area as their home rather than in the forests of Camiguin remained a mystery to residents. “Maybe they like it here because people don’t hunt animals. Maybe they feel safe and protected,” Longay said.

Quililan warned that killing a critically endangered animal such as the kabug would be punishable by law. He cited Republic Act No. 9147, or the Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act of 2001, which punishes offenders with a fine of 1 to 2 million pesos.

The mayor said the city’s legislative council had begun drafting an ordinance that would declare the settlement habitat a protected sanctuary.

“To make sure the bats will stay put, we need to make sure that in addition to banning loud noises, the trees where they live are never cut down or their branches pruned,” Palarca said.

He said the bats’ favorite food included mango, nuts from “talisay” (tropical almond) trees, “lanzones” and other wild fruits abundant on the island.

Due to the island’s fertile volcanic soil, Camiguin lanzones have been touted as the mildest among the country’s varieties.

“We have a mango tree near the town hall and whenever there are ripe fruits the bats use it, which is a good thing because the ripe ones no longer fall on the ground,” Palarca said.

Palarca said locals were made aware of the bats’ presence and whenever he noticed the bats flying away in the middle of the day, he often sent the police to check on them. had disturbed.

“The presence of bats in Poblacion is living proof that we protect our environment. Imagine, they chose to live among people rather than in the desert,” he added.

See the bridge

He said the local Catarman government plans to build a viewing deck a few hundred meters from the colony’s home, where tourists can watch the bats from a safe distance.

“We will make bats a tourist attraction without disturbing their habitat. We will buy telescopes for observation,” Palarca said.

The Penro has also conducted information campaigns to inform residents that the golden-crowned flying fox is a critically endangered species due to its rapidly declining population.

“We in Camiguin are indeed blessed with a diverse flora and fauna, thanks to the vigilance and concern for the environment of our people,” said Camiguin Governor Jurdin Jesus Romualdo. “These bats will become an additional attraction for our island’s tourism industry. Now our guests, especially environmentalists and wildlife lovers, will have more reason to visit Camiguin.

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