I was trying to decide what kind of animal to write about next (cats, otters, another ‘animal hero in wartime’…?) when I thought about bats. I have always had a fascination with bats. It was probably because I read the Silverwing series by Kenneth Oppel a long time ago (some of the coolest children’s books, really). The Giant Golden-Crowned Flying Fox was a species of bat I had researched many times long ago, and chosen never to write about, even though I have blogged about bats before. I don’t think it was ever about an individual species, just a general outlook on this tiny part of the class Mammalia.
Also known as the golden-capped fruit bat, the giant golden-crowned flying fox is a rare and endangered kind of megabat, and also one of the largest in the world. They are native to forests in the Philippines. They can weigh up to 2.6 pounds, and their wingspan can stretch up to 6 or 7 feet, according to several different sources. This species thrives mostly on raw fruit and is non-aggressive toward humans. But despite their benevolence, handling the bat without proper training and vaccination is dangerous, because some of the bats could carry diseases.
They have black bodies that contrast well with the golden fur around their heads, from which they get their species name. Like all other fruit bats, they have no tail (unlike megabats, this trait only occurs in certain species of microbats). The only other bats with similar dimensions are a few species of Pteropus.
Recent surveys have discovered that the range of the golden-crowned flying fox extends to the islands of Bohol, Boracay, Cebu, Leyte, Luzon, Mindanao, Mindoro, Negros, and Polillo. They are primarily nocturnal, and they can travel at least 25 miles in one night, searching for food. They are pollinators and seed dispersers for many trees in the Philippines, maintaining and increasing plant diversity. They also use water for grooming, often taking their time to do so. They frequently wash in the water, using their wings to scoop it up and pour it over their bodies.
Their primary diet is composed of figs and leaves from the lowland forests of the Philippine Islands. When fruit bats were abundant in the Philippines, the giant golden-crowned flying fox and the large flying fox made colonies. It was this roosting behavior that kept them warm and safe from natural predators, but also made them more easy to hunt. The colonies reportedly numbered over 150,000 individuals.
While their roosting-sites can be far from human presence, the roosting-sites of golden-crowned colonies can also be found near roads and adjacent to sub-suburban locations.
While foraging for food, the bats could easily spread diseases to livestock via saliva contamination, potentially spreading a harmful virus family called Filoviridae.
They live in deep caves as well as the rainforests. They typically follow the routes of the river, and experts believe that it is because they can easily find food sources in those areas. Golden-crowned flying foxes are known for having features similar to that of a fox, and many other canines. They also have ears that are pointed, unlike the usually rounded ears of most bats.
One of the biggest contributors to the endangerment of the golden-crowned flying fox is due to hunting–as you may have expected. In addition to the demand for their meat and pelts, they are also hunted because they are considered pests for their destruction of fruit crops. They are apparently hunted especially in Southeast Asia, where half of the world’s flying fox species are located. Southeast Asia ultimately faces a widespread trend in fruit bat hunting, the world’s highest amount of natural habitat loss along with other factors that endanger the lives of giant golden-crowned flying foxes (my fingers have grown tired of typing that unnecessarily long name. Unfortunately, there is yet to come).
The giant golden-crowned flying fox is threatened by deforestation, and they have completely disappeared from many islands in the Philippines, such as Panay and most of Cebu. The extinct Panay populations were once considered a different species, the Panay giant fruit bat, but is now included under Acerodon jubatus. Unfortunately, the species is not only hunted for their size but because of the availability of licenses; despite the fact that this species is endangered, they are still able to be hunted for sport and consumption when they are spotted outside of their roosts.
In 2013, Bat Conservation International listed this species as one of the 35 species of its worldwide priority list of conservation. The local government of Maitum, Sarangani in the Philippines has organized a campaign to save the species from extinction. The Subic Bay region of the Philippines plays host to a lot of the research on this species. Subic Bay is a 14,000-acre protection area that is managed by people who want to preserve the species. Captive breeding is one of the more realistic and reasonable ways to conserve the species.
Serological tests on flying-foxes found that reston ebolavirus (which can cause serious infections in macaque monkeys, but not humans) is widespread in Philippine bats. The fieldwork was conducted on the Philippine island Luzon in two different locations. The first location was the Bulacan Province and the second location Subic Bay Freeport Zone.
This finding in the bat brings forth potential risks. While searching for food, virus-carrying Golden-crowned flying foxes can increase viral load under the feed trees, which lengthens the risk.
These discoveries suggest that reston ebolavirus is circulating through specific bat populations. Efforts to identify further evidence for viruses-infested bats in the Philippines are still underway.
Another thing: nobody is born with a fear of bats. That comes later on. Me, though…HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE BATS?
Here’s a little poem I decided to write for this post:
Wings spread leathery in dusk-thick air,
Winds billowing, feathery, in the ghost sky’s lair,
Racing its reflection across the tabletop pond,
The bat’s tall, seeding trees bear memories both sad and fond,
Watching soaring shapes above, as a lowly grounded frond.
Let’s keep the memory, of creatures good and fair,
While they beat the sands of time…
High up in the wing-churned air.