The Bats of Miagao
Miagao, like all of Panay, has its own sets of mystical stories and folklore unique to the town. Bats play a role in such folklores and we do have our own new arrivals on the scene.
Bats are generally scary looking, fox like, vampire of the Hollywood version. They smell. They are ugly and mysterious because of their nocturnal habits. Panay Island, because of massive deforestation starting during the galleon trade between Mexico and Philippines, hunting (for food and sport) and conversion of forest lands to agriculture, had decimated bat populations. The most notable of the great bats is a species called Giant Golden Crowned Fruit Bat. With wing span close to 6 feet and solitary habits, this species became extinct very fast in Panay. It can be found in rare places in Negros and few other islands, and fast disappearing. Given their nocturnal habits and large size, one can always presume that the folklore of the ‘aswang’ could easily have come from night encounters with this bat. In reality, the Giant Golden Crowned Fruit Bat is harmless, feeding on figs and other fruits that grow along the river banks.
One of the most unusual new arrivals in Miagao is the fruit bat, Pteropus hypomelanus, also commonly known as the common island flying fox. They are the more gregarious types, normally congregating in trees with populations ranging from a few hundred to a few thousands. The Miagao fruit bats appeared on the scene in 2003 (some say as early as 2001) roosting in a giant hundred + year old bubog tree (called skunk tree) 300 meters from the beach and in the midst of heavily populated area of town. Where they came from is unknown, why they stayed or chosen Miagao is even more a mystery. But, the population increased in numbers and became the new residents.
The municipality has protected these bats and the people living near them or even under the giant bubog trees managed to co-exist with the flying foxes. Having bats as neighbors, considering the smell and the scary looks, can make any one upset, the Miagaowanons have found them a natural part of the landscape. Our interest in the flying foxes started from our daily view of the bats flying out of the tree precisely at sunset. One can set the time clock on when they fly at dusk. The massive flight takes about 30 minutes and can be such an amazing sight as they flew over Sulu Garden. This daily event started a deeper curiosity and led us to take a closer look at the fruit bats in their natural habitat—the bubog tree surrounded by an entire ring of houses, just behind the municipal building. We then confirmed the species, thanks with the help from Philippine Bat Champions https://www.facebook.com/PhilippineBatChampions
The Value of Flying Foxes
Flying foxes share a common ancestry with humans, evolving from the same primitive primates millions of years ago. The insect eating and nectar feeders evolved from a distinct evolutionary line. So when you look at our Miagao bats, it is closer to us as you might otherwise think, although they do look hideous up close. Remember that bats are the only group of mammals capable of active flight.
Flying-foxes play an important role in our environment by dispersing seeds and pollinating flowering plants. Because they can cover vast distances in a single night, as far as 40 km from their roost, the seeds that attach to their fur can be dispersed over great distances. This ensures higher survival of the plants to grow to maturity. This wider dispersion helps expand our remaining forests and reduce the deforestation in the higher, more inaccessible localities.
So, just be nice to bats; they do have a value besides being the source of myths and fear.
Here is a quick video of the Miagao island foxes emerging from their roosting tree. With thousands of bats (estimated in the range of 5,000), the emergence time for the entire colony to fly out in sequence is about 25 minutes starting every night.. Shown here is emergence from the roosting tree as viewed from the evening skies above Sulu Garden. Music is the theme from Star Trek II (Wrath of Khan, Battle in Mutara Nebula).
The clips shows only part of the organized sequence of immature and mature bats flying out of their roost that lasts quite a long time. It is enthralling to see for the first time in real time. Come and see for yourself at Sulu Garden during sunset. See you there!
Sulu Garden, in collaboration with Poseidon Sciences, has been undertaking detailed observations on the behavior of fruit bats in Miagao. Flight times at sunset and time to return back to the roosting trees are being recorded via cameras pointed at the bubog trees. The effect of bats on their human neighbors and how human activities may affect bat populations are also being studied as part of a long term conservation effort and towards development of a sustainable tourist attraction for the town.
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