Bats of Philippines

Kiwi, my travel companion amazed by the sheer size of Acerodon jubatus, the largest bat in the World!
The view on the beach near the Underground River on Palawan.

Looking for bats in Oceania (e.g. New Caledonia, Australia) was relatively easy: the literature is fairly easy to find; the bat fauna isn’t too diversified; and a number of people had visited the areas before, making it quite easy to follow in their steps. But this was all about to change as I flew to the Philippines. With no literature available, barely any research having been done there at all, high species diversity and very few people visiting this archipelago for its bats, the challenge ahead was substantial!

With over 7,000 islands, I had to choose as I had only planned a 16-day stay in the archipelago. As a general rule, the larger the island, the higher the diversity, so I knew I wasn’t going for the really small ones. However, while Luzon is the biggest one, it’s also one of the most degraded islands, meaning that most species of bats would be in inaccessible parts, yet to be destroyed (which let’s be honest, is their likely future). In the end, I decided to choose Palawan, because it’s still quite wild and because of its Underground river, home to 8 species of bats; Mindanao to visit Monfort Bat Sanctuary; and Bohol because I found reports of bats in easily accessible caves there. At the beginning and at the end of my trip, I spent a bit on time on Luzon.

First destination of the trip was Subic Bay, North of Manila. Known to birdwatchers and mammal watchers alike, the place is famous for its Large Flying Fox, Pteropus vampyrus and Golden-crowned Flying Fox, Acerodon jubatus colony. The two species are competing for the title of largest bat in the world, although the latter seems to be the largest in most cases. Either way, they can have a wingspan north of 1.6m, that’s 5 ft 3’ for the non-metric folks out there. It’s crazy!

On my arrival to the known place, no bats to be seen. After asking a couple of locals, I discovered that the roost had burnt, driving them deep inside the jungle. Not good news… Turns out that bats really are creatures of habit though, because they came back to feed on their usual trees a little after dark. Not a great sighting because of the darkness but what a relief!

With my bat recorder, I managed to identify a few microbats, including the Asian wrinkle-lipped Bat, Chaerephon plicatus that I will see over and over again throughout my journey across SE Asia, Pipistrellus javanicus and Rhinolophus philippensis.

Megaderma spasma, evidently not amused by me trying to take its portrait...
Cynopterus luzonensis waiting for the day to go by, hiding under a palm leaf.

On Palawan, I stayed in Sabang, away from the busy city of Puerto Princesa. Although I should say that describing PP as busy makes it a bit of a struggle to find the appropriate word to describe Metro Manila. With over 13 million people, which is more than Belgium (okay, not the biggest country in the world, I’ll give you that), how do you imagine traffic is? The M25 (near London) is a breeze to cruise in comparison with downtown Manila…

Sabang is also very busy. Well, it has more chickens than people and these are responsible for most of the traffic on the road but still. It’s also where the Underground River is located. The Puerto Princesa Underground River, or PPUR in short is an extremely touristic place but is still home to thousands of bats. I had to visit it.

 

During my first visit, I left my bat recorder running during the entire cruise (on small paddle long boats. Nice and quiet, unlike the boats they use to get you there from Sabang…) and recorded a number of species, most of them were known from the cave but not all. I am still working on some identifications at this stage so I won’t yet list the species I recorded.

After the cruise, I paid a visit to Chucky, the local and very friendly Palawan Peacock-pheasant.

I decided to go back the next day to take some photographs of the bats to help with the identification process. Thousands of Hipposideros diadema, many Rhinolophus spp, especially close to the entrance (R.philippensis, R.creaghi and R.acuminatus) as well as some Miniopterus roosting in small groups.

Every night, I recorded the bats around Bambua nature lodge, where I was staying (highly recommended btw) and managed to add a couple more species.

I also did a couple of days of birdwatching with Will Cabanillas, an amazing guide! I really recommend him if you’re visiting the island, and you should, its bird life is amazing!

Female Colugo, the Philippine Flying Lemur, closely related to Primates.
Emballonura alecto. I really like those bats, they always look like they're smiling!

Next stop, Mindanao to visit the island of Samal and the Monfort Bat Sanctuary. The Sanctuary hosts a complex of shallow caves, full of bats. The caves are only home to a single species, Rousettus amplexicaudatus but it’s a rare example of bat based ecotourism so I had to visit it. Sadly, bat ecotourism hasn’t really picked up (yet?). It would be great if that could be changed in the future! I definitely recommend visiting the place if you’re in Davao.

Onto Bohol next, I stayed in Lobok, close to the nature attractions the island has to offer and stayed at the Water to Forest Ecolodge (also highly recommended. Although it wasn’t as cheap as Bambua, it was equally good value).

From there, I visited the Butterfly Conservation Center. You could definitely give that one a miss, if it wasn’t for the cluster of Cynopterus luzoniensis roosting under a leaf inside the park. I did consider visiting the Tarsier Conservation Center but the entrance was as crowded as Disneyland so I skipped that one.

I visited some caves in the Raja Sikatuna NP where I found the diminutive Hipposideros pygmaeus. Seriously, it’s tiny! I also saw many more Hipposideros diadema and a few Miniopterus. During every cave visit, I leave my recorder running, so I still have to identify some of the bats here too.

I also visited a cave behind the Butterfly Conservation Center with the help of one of their guides. That one had the same species but also had the endemic Greater Musky Fruit bat, Ptenochirus jagori .

Kiwi posing in front of the entrance of the bat cave at Monfort Bat Sanctuary, home to 1.8 million fruit bats!
Hipposideros diadema wondering why suddenly it's daytime inside its cave.
Chaerephon plicata exiting one the lecture halls on the University of Philippines campus in Los Banos.

For my last ‘usable’ night in Luzon, I decided to visit the Philippine University campus of Los Baños. I had been told bats were emerging from one of the buildings and it’s also a birdwatching hotspot so I thought I’d give it a go. The bats emerging from one of the lecture halls were Chaerephon plicatus, about a thousand or so. For the rest, bat activity was very low. No fruit on the trees so no fruit bats but also none of the highlights of the place such as the Hornbills and Malkohas.

Identification of my sound recordings is likely to take a while and it will be an ever bigger challenge with the recordings I’ll make in Indonesia. But I’ll get there and I’ll make sure to keep you updated!

Overall, during my stay in the Philippines, I saw/recorded 27 species of bats, which is a lot more than I anticipated.

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