Saturday, September 3

To the (Monfort) bat cave!

Although I've been to Davao City many times, I've never actually made the trip across the strait to the Island Garden City of Samal. Probably because I've always been to Davao on business or as jump off point heading off to somewhere else in Mindanao.  This last time though, we had a free day after arriving from our Mati adventure and before heading back to Manila and I finally got to go.

Of course one of the places on my list to visit  (aside from the beach!), was the Monfort Bat Sanctuary in Barangay Tambo.  This private establishment holds the world's largest known population of Geoffroy's Rousette fruit bats roosting in caves scattered around the property.

Geoffroy's Rousettes Fruit Bats!

Adri and I had recently seen an impressive colony of Geoffroy's Rousettes on Danjugan Island.  But that turned out to be a tiny community compared to the over 2 million bats estimated to be living at Monfort!

Welcome to the Island Garden City of Samal!

It was still early when we arrived: our group (Alex, Tere, Mel, Mark, Adri and me) was the first for the day.  Upon entering we paid the fee (a hundred pesos per adult).  We were on our way to the reception area to meet our guide when we were immediately stopped by the sight of a Brahminy Kite and a Large-billed Crow in a mid-air skirmish!

Aerial battle! Crow versus Kite!

We all watched, entertained by the back and forth retaliation of the 2 birds, and wondering what the quarrel was about.  

Crow chasing the Kite!

Or is it Kite chasing the Crow?!?

The engagement lasted several minutes before they finally flew out of our view behind the trees. So, back to the bats...

Lots of informative posters and photos.
There were a lot of informational posters and signage everywhere about the bats and the history of the sanctuary.  It was very interesting to read the material and look at the photos, but our guide was soon ready to give us a brief orientation and lead us...

To the batcave!!!  (yes, of course, cue the 1960's Batman TV series music theme here)

Cave number one: already pretty impressive. There were several more!

It was actually an underground system of several caves which the bats roosted in. Although you could approach quite near without disturbing the bats, bamboo fences were thoughtfully put up to remind visitors not to come too close to the resting animals.

It was easy viewing, and a bamboo fence reminded everyone to keep their distance.
After all, it was daytime and the nocturnal bats were resting.

Hundreds and hundreds of bats could be seen roosting on the outer walls of the caves and as far back as you could peer inside the caverns.

No personal bubble requirement for bats, I guess.

Many of the bats were asleep, some were busy grooming themselves while some were even flying around.

You have to admit they looked pretty adorable.

There was the distinctive smell of guano wafting from the caves, but it wasn't so bad if you were upwind.

Our guide mentioned that each of the caves housed a specific population of bats: one cave had mostly young bats, another had mostly pregnant and nursing bats and yet another had senior citizen bats.

Each cave had a specific bat demographic occupying it!

It was almost mesmerizing to watch the bats pack the walls of the cave at such a high density.  It must be a great sight to see them leave the roost at sundown!

Just hanging out. How can you sleep?!?

At one of the caves, we even spotted a large rat crawling on a blank, unoccupied area of the wall! It was sniffing its way up the wall, right side up, long tail and wingless! Not blending in at all and yet the bats paid it no obvious attention.

Wait, that's no bat!

We were asked to look out for young bats still clinging to their mothers.  With our binoculars, we easily spotted one, and later, several of the young bats!

Mother and child:  aaaaw.

They were easier to spot when we realized that, aside from their tinier size, they were grayer in color. We also noticed and that, while clutching their mom by their feet, they would be flapping their pale wings in an effort to position themselves better to suckle at mom's milk or to sleep tucked in tight under her wings.

Many of the young ones were quite restless and kept flapping their wings.

We got a glimpse of how important it was for the babies to hang on tight to mom. One of the large-billed crows was hanging out on the bamboo fences, looking down at the bats thoughtfully.

This crow's up to no good. (You can almost imagine a thought bubble above its head!)

Suddenly it dove in to the hole!  What was it up to?!?  It came up from the cave's interior and perched again on the bamboo fence, still looking at the bats.

On a second dive, it flew up to a mango tree carrying a baby bat! We could clearly see the baby bat flailing in the crow's beak. Eventually, the crow flew up to a higher branch and held down the bat with its claws. We could see it picking at the bat in its feet, but the large branch thankfully obscured the more gory details.

Oh no!  Poor little baby bat!
(bottom- Adri got a better view and photo compared to mine- top)

Our guide explained to us that this predation by crows was quite common!  Despite the grisly situation, it was pretty interesting that we were able to witness this "nature is red in tooth and claw" event. Other common predators were pythons (we didn't see any!) and rats (so that was what that fellow was up to!).

As we took one last look at the bats, we noticed even more young bats in the colony.  They looked especially fragile now, after we had witnessed the violent demise of one them.  Still, our guide had mentioned that the population of this colony has increased significantly in the past few years. 

There were many more babies!

The Monfort Bat Colony made it to the Guiness Book of World Records in 2010 as the largest colony of Geoffroy's Rousettes Fruit Bats, and it had surprised scientists by having such a large number of pregnant bats even outside the known breeding season!  The protection given to these bats is in stark contrast to many other colonies which are often persecuted by hunting for food or harvesting of their guano. 

Bats are friends... not food!

It is great to see the efforts of the Monfort Bat Sanctuary to protect and promote this important species.  After all, fruit bats are important pollinators and seed dispersers. Where better to appreciate the Geoffroy's Rousettes than in a region known for tropical rainforests and fruit production (did I hear someone say durian?)!

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