Gentle Creatures Struggling to Survive Poaching and Deforestation: The Terrifying Appearance of These Bats Belies Their True Nature

With a wingspan that rivals the height of Tom Cruise, the giant golden-crowned bat exudes a terrifying presence as it soars through the air with its wings outstretched, accentuating the vastness of its wingspan. Its slender, furry body emphasizes the enormity of its wings, giving it a menacing appearance. When at rest, it takes on an eerie resemblance to a vampire, shrouded in a rubbery black cape.

Despite its imposing size, this fruit-eating megabat, native to the Philippines, poses no threat to humans. Sadly, humans encroach upon their habitat and engage in illegal hunting for amusement or sustenance, pushing them toward the brink of extinction as an endangered species.

These innocent and endangered creatures captured the attention of people worldwide when viral images showcased their size and predatory features, eliciting both fascination and fear.

However, it is essential to clarify certain misconceptions before delving deeper into understanding these remarkable creatures. Firstly, they are not truly “human-sized” unless one takes a liberal interpretation and compares them to a “small child” rather than an average adult human. The giant golden-crowned bat belongs to one of the largest bat species globally, boasting a wingspan of approximately 5 feet and 6 inches. Its body, ranging in size from seven inches to 11.4 inches and weighing less than 3 pounds, is proportionate to its wingspan.

Sporting a furry golden crown atop its head, this fig-loving bat is a herbivore with nocturnal habits. It forages for roots, fruits, and vegetables under the cover of darkness.

While other varieties of flying fox megabats exist in Asia, Africa, and Australia, the golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatus) exclusively inhabits the jungles of the Philippines. Often forming colonies comprising up to 10,000 members, these bats spend their days slumbering, hanging upside down from the treetops using their clawed toes. Occasionally, the giant bats share their roosts with their smaller cousins, the large flying fox, which possesses a wingspan of less than five feet.

Unlike many bats that rely on echolocation, the giant golden-crowned flying fox navigates the skies using its keen eyesight and sense of smell.

Acting as tireless defenders against deforestation, these flying foxes play a crucial role in the intricate forest ecosystem. They facilitate the redistribution of fig seeds, contributing to reforestation efforts across the Philippines. Unfortunately, the more the bats endeavor to fulfill their ecological duty, the more destruction humans inflict upon their habitats.

Bat Conservation International (BCI) reveals a grim reality—over 90 percent of the Philippines’ old-growth forests have been decimated, leading to the disappearance of the species from several roosting sites on multiple islands.

The destruction of their natural habitats, coupled with hunting for sale, sport, and personal consumption, has caused a rapid decline in the golden-crowned bat population. From 1986 to 2016, their numbers plummeted by 50 percent. Consequently, the species is now classified as endangered by The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Although the 2001 Philippine Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act designates these bats as protected, the law remains inadequately enforced.

Tragically, despite the majority of the bats’ roosts being situated in protected areas, they continue to be mercilessly slaughtered. Hunters engage in a cruel and inhumane practice, shooting these innocent creatures while they slumber, leaving many injured, their toes still clinging to the branches even in death.

Remarkably, while humans pose a significant threat to the bat population, these flying foxes display a lack of shyness. They can be found in forests near villages or towns, perching along roads or simply existing in populated areas where they feel comfortable. However, they possess the ability to discern safe zones from dangerous ones, leading them to relocate and roost in areas inaccessible to humans, such as slopes over 1,000 feet above sea level. Additionally, these bats demonstrate high intelligence, comparable to that of dogs, and exhibit a remarkable capacity for learning and memory retention.

A study on operant conditioning reveals that hand-raised flying-fox bats can be successfully trained to pull levers in exchange for a juice reward. Astonishingly, even after three and a half years, when reintroduced to the familiar experimental chamber, these bats immediately recall and repeat the lever-pulling behavior, expecting the reward.

Bats possess unique physical features that some individuals find unsettling or fearsome. Their leathery wings, sharp teeth, and large eyes may contribute to a sense of unease or fear. However, it is important to note that only three out of the 1,300 bat species are known to consume blood. Once one gets past the initial shock of their appearance, the golden-crowned flying foxes reveal their true adorableness.

It is truly disheartening to witness the destruction and loss of these innocent and intelligent animals’ homes due to deforestation. If you share this concern, please help raise awareness about this endangered and harmless species by sharing their story.

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