People crowded around the entrance to Monfort Bat Cave, enchanted by the world's largest colony of Geoffroy's rousette fruit bats. The cave on the Philippines' Samal Island was the centerpiece of January's Bat Camp 2011 – one of the first major events of the United Nations-designated 2011-12 International Year of the Bat.
And while the public enjoyed this learning experience, about 50 of the country's leading bat biologists and land managers were gathered nearby for a separate major event – a national Cave-Bat Workshop. Working almost around the clock they began the next big step in Philippine bat conservation: a nationwide assessment of cave bats.
Bat Conservation International joined with enthusiastic partners in the Philippines for both the workshop and the nine-day Bat Camp, which featured not only bat watching, but an agenda packed with educational exhibits and lectures, interactive programs for youngsters, training sessions, a teachers' workshop, community outreach and even a "Bike for Bats Fun Ride."
BCI Executive Director Nina Fascione, leading a BCI ecotour timed to coincide with the festivities, addressed bat experts and decision-makers at a Bat Conservation Forum during the week. She praised the exceptional progress in the country since BCI began its concerted efforts in the Philippines in 2006 – when Norma Monfort first requested help in protecting the remarkable colony of fruit bats in the cave owned by her family. Monfort, a tireless champion of bat conservation, was a primary organizer of Bat Camp festivities.
The Philippines Cave-Bat Workshop and educational components of Bat Camp are among early projects supported by a conservation grant from the Disney Friends for Change, a grant earned by BCI supporters in an online voting competition.
The unprecedented workshop brought together biologists, cavers and staff of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources from around the Philippines to identify and document specific threats to cave bats and to use that information to establish national conservation, management and research priorities.
Dave Waldien, BCI's Vice President of Operations and International Programs, rated the workshop "a great success. People came early and worked long hours after the sessions ended. The participation and dedication of everyone at the workshop was something to behold."
Participants established national perspectives on key threats to caves and cave bats, identified critical stakeholders whose involvement will be needed to achieve sustainable conservation, and set initial priorities for management, education and research. And the process itself enhanced a broad, new bat-conservation network that is dispersed across the nation and building unity around a common objective.
What emerged from the workshop, Waldien said, is "a vibrant and growing national bat-conservation movement, one that is fueled by the dedication of Filipino biologists, cavers, conservationists and many others."