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Tue Apr 28, 2020, 07:56 AM

Iconic Flying Foxes Of Boracay, Philippines Gone; 15,000 Lived There In 1980s; Now Only 30 Left

BORACAY ISLAND, Philippines — The bats that swarmed Boracay’s evening skies were once as iconic as the pristine white sand beaches that made this tiny island in the central Philippines one of the country’s hottest tourist destinations. A survey in 1988 counted 15,000 resident bats. But as tourism exploded on the island, the bat population cratered. In 2017, at the peak of the tourism boom, conservationists conducting an exit survey counted only 2,425 bats flying off the island at sunset. By March 2020, a similar survey found numbers were down to a startling 30 bats.

The figure is extreme,” says Julia Lervik, president of Friends of the Flying Foxes (FFF), a group of conservationists and environmentalists that has been surveying Boracay’s bats since 2004. “We barely have any bats left on the island.” The 2020 figure is doubly alarming because it comes after the island was temporarily closed to tourism and put under an environmental rehabilitation program.

Experts point to two key factors behind the decline of Boracay’s bats, both linked to the upswing in tourist numbers: locals catch bats and sell them to both foreign and local tourists as food, and bat habitat and roosting sites have been destroyed by the fast-paced development of resorts and tourist infrastructure.

This runaway development also fouled the island’s beaches and water. By 2018, the island was declared a “cesspool” by President Rodrigo Duterte, who ordered it closed to tourism from April to October that year. During the closure, Duterte ordered the creation of the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF), led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), to oversee the island’s rehabilitation. But almost two years into the process, the situation for Boracay’s resident bats appears to have only deteriorated.



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