23% of SE Asia’s bat population about to go extinct

This article first appeared on PTV News.

BACOLOD CITY — Nearly a quarter of the bat population of Southeast Asia, where about 30 percent of the world’s bats are found, is threatened with extinction, a US-based conservation expert said here Monday.

“That’s a huge problem, 23 percent threatened or near threatened. By threatened, what we’re saying is there’s a much greater probability that they will go extinct unless we change what’s happening to them now,” Dr. Tigga Kingston, associate professor at Texas Tech University, said in a press briefing at the opening of the four-day 4th International Southeast Asian Bat Conference at L’ Fisher Hotel.

Kingston, who launched the Southeast Asian Bat Conservation Research Unit (SEABCRU) in 2007, said forest destruction and cave disturbance affect the natural habitats of bats, which play an important role in biodiversity, specifically in pollination and pest control.

In Southeast Asia, she said, bat habitats are mostly forests that are destroyed when cleared through logging and for agricultural plantations.

“If we lose forests as habitats, we lose the bats. Protecting forests is one of the most important things that could be done, and (also) protecting other natural areas,” Kingston said.

There is also disturbance and loss of bat homes as people enter caves to scour for limestone deposits.

“So this is what happens to the animals. They’re losing safe places to roost and reproduce,” Kingston said, adding that in other places, people hunt bats as well.

“To move forward in protecting them, we must protect the remaining forests. We must protect the caves where they live,” she added.

Out of the 1,370 bat species in the world, 379 are found in Southeast Asia alone.

“Southeast Asia is really, really important in the global text. Yet, one quarter of Southeast Asian bats are in trouble,” Kingston said.

There is no exact data on the total bat population in the region because of the challenges in counting individual bats.

“In terms of population, there is no species which we can count the numbers of individuals. This is one of the real challenges. This is what makes bat work hard. They would fly, they fly at night. They move around landscapes in large scale so counting individuals is very hard,” Kingston pointed out.

“For a handful of species, we saw populations at hundreds of thousands, but in other areas, much lower. In terms of individuals or populations, we just don’t know, it’s impossible (to count) for most species,” she added.

Kingston noted that the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) “has done an amazing job counting the population for at risk” bats.  The Philippines has 79 bat species, 38 of which are endemic.

Indonesia has 236 species, including 50 endemic; Thailand, 146, with one endemic; Malaysia, 133, with 10 endemic; Vietnam, 123; Myanmar, 100; and Singapore, 28. Meanwhile, Europe is home to 48 bat species.

Lisa Paguntalan, executive director of Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (PBCFI), which spearheads the hosting of the conference, said Negros Island also “needs conservation importance when it comes to bats.”
Paguntalan said there are 14 species of fruit-eating bats and at least 36 insect-eating bats in Negros.

“We have species that are only known to our island. Bringing the attention of the Southeast Asian nations and the global community, and having the support of other countries will be important,” she added. (Nanette Guadalquiver/PNA)

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