The Philippine bare-backed fruit bat was pronounced extinct in 1990, a victim of illegal hunting and severe habitat loss on its two home islands, Cebu and Negros in the Philippines. But at least a few of these rarely studied bats escaped oblivion. And now local conservationists are working desperately, with support from BCI, to keep this species from vanishing.
|Philippine bare-backed fruit bat ((Dobsonia chapmani). Photo courtesy of Ely Alcala.
The species (Dobsonia chapmani) was rediscovered on Cebu in 2001, although none have been reported there since. A few of the bare-backed fruit bats also were confirmed in the Calatong forest on Negros in 2003 and 2006 by Ely Alcala of Silliman University in Dumaguete, Philippines.
When a new capture of a bare-backed fruit bat on Negros was reported last year, BCI’s International Programs was able to provide funding that allowed Alcala, Acting Director of Silliman’s Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management, to lead a modest project to search for roosting sites in Calatong. The work also included initial community outreach aimed at providing the first measure of protection for the species, which the IUCN lists as Critically Endangered.
“We have confirmed capture of a young female [Philippine bare-backed fruit bat] during our visit,” Alcala reported in April 2013. “We also observed a couple in another roosting tree but discontinued setting up the nets to avoid stress on the animals.”
He said the team will revisit the Calatong forest soon to continue gathering scientific information about the species and its habitat for use in a concerted campaign to establish a protected area and a formal management plan for the area.
BCI has pledged rapid-response funding for this essential effort and is recruiting other U.S. and international partners. “It is not often that we are able to make a positive conservation impact for a species previously thought to be extinct,” said International Programs Director Dave Waldien. “In this case, we are doing exactly that, with local partners who are focused on the species, habitat and communities and who are working to win the support of the government.”
Alcala’s outreach is aimed at provincial and local officials, as well as community leaders, churches and schools. College students are being trained to assist in the research. He said he hopes to give local residents a sense of pride and ownership so they will demand action and assist in protecting their bats from hunters and from the rampant cutting of trees for charcoal production that destroys their habitat.
The challenges are immense. Aggressive hunting in the past was a key factor in the nearly complete annihilation of bare-backed fruit bats, which can weigh up to half a pound (225 grams) each. And the forests within their limited range continue to disappear at a frightful pace. Because of this, the species is no longer observed in many of its former habitats in southern and central Negros. But dedicated local conservationists, with growing international support, are finally giving the bare-backed fruit bats a chance to return from the brink of oblivion.
You can help BCI support this valiant grassroots effort to save the Philippine bare-backed fruit bat and other critical bat-conservation projects.