26 September 2013 | News story
“In countries with insufficient governmental support for conservation, it is often up to communities to pursue the conservation of their local environment”, explains Tammy Mildenstein, project leader. “That is, if they care, and if they are empowered to do so! Luckily in the Philippines, Flying Foxes make it easy for us to engage local community members: these large, charismatic mammals are well-known and most importantly, valued by local communities.”
“But the point is”, according to Tammy, “that people don’t always realise just how valuable Flying Foxes are. Indeed, their roles are numerous and varied. Ecologically, they play a key role as seed dispersers and pollinators of native forest trees, enabling the forest ecosystem to continue providing fresh water and clean air, for example. Economically, Flying Foxes are essential pollinators of local food crops such as durian, a multi-million dollar industry in Southeast Asia. Moreover, a protected Flying Fox colony offers great potential as an eco-tourism attraction. Finally, Flying Foxes are often celebrated as charismatic icons of local culture and natural heritage, and are widely respected for their spiritual associations.
To the project team, there is no doubt that community education and awareness about Flying-Foxes is essential to building public support for conservation management.”Once we arrive in a community, we first introduce our team and project to the local authorities, we explain the ecological importance of the flying-foxes and we ask for their support. Then we visit the schools, clubs and NGOs which have expressed interest in hosting environmental education and Flying-Fox awareness sessions. We adapt our communication materials to the audience, using slide shows, group discussions, field activities, children’s stories, games, role-play or songs to impart conservation principles.”
Training nature conservation professionals on Flying Fox topics is also an important aspect of the project, as Tammy underlines through example: “we treat each roost survey as an opportunity to build capabilities in Flying-Fox monitoring, training local protected areas managers in our simple and inexpensive field techniques”.
“Interestingly”, Tammy notes, "we also team up with one the main threats to the species, the bat hunters. We hire local hunters as “guides” and involve them in our counting efforts. This shows hunters that we respect their traditional knowledge and helps us benefit from their expertise to gather population size data. Even more importantly however, we observed that hunters who accompany us in the field often realise the extent to which bats are a limited resource and become advocates for self-imposed hunting regulation and other locally-based protective efforts.”
Engaging and empowering communities to manage conservation efforts is a long process. Congratulations to the team for this encouraging start, more news to come as the project progresses!