Phnom Sampov Bat Cave Community members in Battambang province’s Banan district are calling for action to protect the local bat population, with numbers having dwindled from six million in 1999 to around a million.
Authorities and locals have been called on to take measures against people hunting the bats, forcing them from their habitats in the area’s mountains.
Phnom Sampov Bat Cave Community chief Dam Chhang told The Post on Wednesday that 20 years ago, bats lived in six caves in the district, three in Phnom Sampov, two in Phnom Krapeu and one in Phnom Banan.
However, now only two caves in Phnom Sampov are home to bat populations – one in the north of the mountain and one in the east.
Due to a lack of understanding of the benefits they bring, local people are catching bats for food and disturbing their natural habitats. Climbing into the caves, rocks and flaming torches are used to kill them.
“Without any support to protect them, the bats will soon be entirely gone from these two caves. It will not only be people in my commune who suffer from the resulting loss of income, but many others will also suffer because the bat caves are a main tourist attraction in the province,” Chhang said.
The Phnom Sampov bat caves were originally under the direct control and care of his family, Chhang explained. In order to preserve them for future generations, he formed the Phnom Sampov Bat Cave Community two months ago.
Roeut Savorn, a member of the recently established community, said there were approximately five to six million bats living in six bat caves in Banan district in 1999. However, there were now only around one million left.
“Besides earning money by selling souvenirs or food to local and international tourists who come to visit the bats as they leave the two caves every evening, people in the community also collect bat droppings to make fertilisers for crops,” Savorn said.
Bat droppings, or guano, make one of the best natural fertilisers. Nearly 2.5 to three tonnes of guano, he said, is collected a month. A 10kg bag sells for 25,000 riel.
Uch Omthiny Sara, the director of the Battambang provincial tourism department, said Phnom Sampov’s two remaining bat caves have become a leading tourist attraction.
“At every sunset, hundreds of thousands of bats exit the caves, creating an enormous noise like soldiers going to battle. This has become an attraction for local and international tourists to visit and take pictures. On average, between 250 and 300 tourists every day come to see them,” Sara said.