THE southern town of Dalaguete is not just Cebu’s vegetable basket. Its remaining forest patches provide home to three species of bats, aside from three endangered bird species.

Lisa Paguntalan of the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (PBCF) said the Dalaguete forest serves as habitat to the golden-crowned flying fox, little golden-mantled flying fox and the large flying fox.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List classifies the golden-crowned flying fox as an endangered species while the large flying fox and the little golden-mantled flying fox are near-threatened.

The Dalaguete forest patch, which covers about 500 hectares, is part of the remaining .3 percent forest cover of Cebu mainland and an important component of the Nug-as Forest-Palinpinon Range-Mt. Lantoy key biodiversity area.

Aside from the bats, the forest in Dalaguete is also the home of the Cebu flowerpecker, Cebu black shama and Cebu hawk-owl, all endemic to Cebu.

To strengthen the national protection status of the forest as one of 117 terrestrial key biodiversity areas in the country, the Dalaguete Municipal Government established its own biodiversity conservation management program.

The program involves assessments of the biological diversity in priority sites, awareness-raising through barangay consultations, implementation of management plans and alternative livelihood to stakeholders.

To institutionalize the program, the Municipal Council passed an ordinance declaring the forest as Dalaguete bird and wildlife sanctuary and allotting an annual budget for community-based forest and wildlife protection.

The Municipal Government also implemented a habitat restoration program, which involves the expansion of the natural forest.

Paguntalan said bats play a vital role in biological biodiversity because they are natural pollinators—they help expand natural vegetation through their droppings.

She said the population of flying foxes in Dalaguete is rising.

Research and monitoring by PBCF noted that the number of flying foxes dropped below 1,000 in 2004 but last January, surveys found 2,500 individuals.

Paguntalan said, though, that while the survey shows how effective Dalaguete’s efforts have been so far, the conservation of the species requires the proper management of an ecosystem network.

She raised the need for stronger cooperation among Alcoy, Dalaguete and Argao to protect and manage the Nug-as Forest, Palinpinon Range and Mt. Lantoy. (LAP)