I made sure I allotted a day to do an inland tour around Samal Island. The objective was to visit a couple of waterfalls and also the famed Monfort Bat Cave which has earned itself a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2010 for having the largest colony of bats in a cave. I must admit, at first my interest wasn’t really sky high on seeing this site as I thought it would just be trivial, but being there changed my opinion of this one-of-a-kind sanctuary.
Coming from Island Garden Resort in Pangubatan, south of Samal Island, I decided to hire a habal-habal for a day to maximize my time. Going the farthest first, Monfort Bat Cave was my first stop located at Babak, north of the island. Going by habal-habal is an interesting way to see the hilly landscape of the island. The northern towns, particularly Peñaplata and Babak are more developed with some commercial establishments in place. It took more than an hour to reach the site sanctuary.
Monfort Bat Cave
“The reason we have plenty of Durian all year round in Davao are because of these bats” said our tour guide.
From the main road there’s a Php 5/pax environmental fee once entering the inner road to the site. Then there’s a Php 100/pax entrance fee to the Monfort Bat Cave sanctuary itself. I thought it was pretty steep, the girl at the reception told me they have increased the fee since 2011. The sanctuary is well organized and documented. They have a guide to give insightful information about the sanctuary.
These Old World bats or particularly the Geoffrey Rousettes pollinate the durian in the island and nearby mainland. I looked in awe at the 5 sinkholes containing about 2.5 million bats enveloping the walls of this 300 meter cave. Since the 5th sinkhole collapsed the population of bats increased from the 1.8 million two years ago.
Monfort Fights for the Bats
Seeing all these bats in one place was just amazing thinking about it. I even thought that the place would smell foul because of the guano (bat dung) but it wasn’t. The guano is also a sought after commodity which the sanctuary have in control many thanks to the effort of Norma Monfort, who fought for the conservation of bats in their 57 acres of land including the caves. These Geoffrey Rousettes fruit bats are poached by locals as food, sometimes unnecessarily killed because of superstition and their habitats disturbed from guano mining. Monfort brought in the help from the scientists from the Bat Conservation International (BCI) and by 2006 she signed an agreement to protect the cave as Monfort Conservation Park with six other government and non-government agencies.
In 2011, Norma Monfort was awarded the “Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund Conservation Heroes” for her conservation efforts. A fitting recognition to someone who grew up caring for these misunderstood creatures. Monfort Bat Cave is a highly recommended visit for me when on Samal Island. It’s not only a visual spectacle of millions of bats but an appreciation of the island’s natural wonder and its co-existence with the people living on the island.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.