Death of a Bat

Before I left for Puerto Rico, I stayed in ViSCA to watch the parade that my little boys were in. They beat on their drums with sticks, emitting a nice staccato of sounds quite similar to raindrops beating on a tin roof. Alzar, big boy that he is, carried the largest drum of the troop and just pounded on it, rhyming each stroke with the beatings of his heart. One time, his friends said, Alzar boomed the skin of the drum a little too hard that the drumstick went through the leather.

Stalking my kids like a leopard, I dove into a sea of camera-clicking parents. I took a series of pictures of them doing the drum roll, that raucous of beats when everyone strikes their drums all at the same time. The sound started slow like a chugging of a train and reached a crescendo that reverberated even after they stopped. My chest rose with pride as my ears went deaf.

With the drumbeats still ringing in my ears, I glanced skyward and saw something hanging from the electric wire which connected the school dormitories. It resembled a dirty brown shirt flung by a wayward drunk. I got closer and realized that the “cloth” was a bat suspended in mid-air. The animal could have landed there to sleep because its feet were in a tight ball holding on to the wire. It hung there motionless, oblivious of the drums and the buzz of parents and kids walking to and fro below. Later on I realized that the bat was dead, most likely electrocuted when it mistook the wire as a tree branch.  A motorcab driver pried the bat from the deathwire with a stick and placed it on his car’s dashboard–not for its last rites but as dinner later in the evening, a fate shared by many wildlife in many parts of the Philippines.

I believe that the bat is a Fischer’s pygmy fruit bat, which is listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as in danger of species endangerment due to habitat loss. The fact that ViSCA is nestled at the foot of Mt. Pangasugan, a tropical rainforest system, human-animal encounters such as this come often. According to the Wikipedia account for ViSCA:

VSU is strategically located on one of the last remaining virgin rain forests in the Philippines. A study by VSU [1] found many animal species listed by the World Conservation Union in the Red List of Threatened Animals (IUCN Red List), including the Philippine tarsier, Philippine flying fox, Fischer’s pygmy fruit bat. New records of the microbat (Hypposideros obscurus), with a length of 5.5 centimeters and body weight of 10 grams, a type of skink (Tropidophorus grayh), and two new species of the fish Goblidae (Stiphodon olivaceous and Stiphodon surrufus) were also found by the VSU survey.

VSU’s Natural History Museum collected 43,000 arthropod specimens from 377 families and 500 genera on Mt. Pangasugan. A new species of orchid (Dendrobium milaniae) and a tiger beetle (Thopeutica milaniae) were named in honor of the former incumbent VSU president Dr. Paciencia Po-Milan, a renowned ecologist.

Other endemic species include the eagle-owl, Philippine hawk-eagle, Rufous Lord kingfisher, Philippine leafbird and miniature tit-babbler and flying lemur.

The Federal Republic of Germany (through the ViSCA-GTZ Applied Tropical EcologyProgranl, ViSCA, Baybay, Leyte, Philippines International) funded the VSU study to collect, identify, describe and document the existing species of aroids (Araceae) and orchids in Mt. Pangasugan. 25 species of aroids representing 12 genera were documented at elevations of up to 350 m ASL. Classified as erect ground dwellers or climbers, the most dominant aroid belong to Pothos and Epipremnum. The orchid species represent 16 genera, with the most dominant belonging to Phalaenopsis.

The Herpetofauna (herps) of Anibong, Jordan, Mt. Pangasugan Range, Leyte is a habitat to endemic species, which is so diverse and slightly distributed. The Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology identified 17 herpetofaunal species belonging to 6 families (Ranidae, Rhacophoridae, Agamidae, Scincidae, Colubridae, Viperidae), of which eight (47%) are endemics (Endemism). These endemic species include Limnonectes magnus, Platymantis corrugatus, Platymantis dorsalis, Brachymeles samarensis, Draco lineatus, Sphenomorphus jagori, Rhabdophis lineate and Trimeresurus flavomaculatus. Limnonectes magnus is already in the near-threatened category. the driver and the bat

Of course ViSCA residents, being an academic community, know that they have to minimize their impact on the environment.  All would agree that an underground system of electric wires could have saved that bat. Yet there is more to be done. The path to species conservation is not that easy, especially when this crosses with something so personal as the smiles on the children’s faces.

As I walked with my sons on the way home, we talked about the dead bat and their drums. I realized how paradoxical it all is. Their drums, sources of their joy and my pride, is symbolic of how intrusive we all are into other species that we share a habitat with.

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