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Guano collectors sound alarm over bat poaching

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Tourists watch bats from Phnom Sampov in Battambang in 2019. Hong Menea

Guano collectors sound alarm over bat poaching

The amount of guano (bat excrement) collected from caves at Phnom Sam Pov Mountain in Battambang province’s Banan district has decreased by 40 to 50 per cent this rainy season, prompting concerns among the locals that bedbugs and poaching may be endangering the bat colonies there.

Phnom Sampov bat cave community chief Dam Chhang told The Post on September 15 that wet weather has also hindered their efforts to collect bat dropping. He said his team could not collect them from the cave floor easily now due to the slippery condition of the rocks and other dangers amid heavy rains.

“Not only do we have to deal with the stench from the guano, but the paths down to the bat caves are dark and covered with mossy rocks that are slippery due to moisture. So our team couldn’t collect as much guano as before because it’s too risky,” he said.

Chhang said his team usually collects guano twice a month on a regular schedule. Past trips yielded hauls of 2.5 to four tonnes each time, but now they were only able to collect only 1.5 to two tonnes on an average visit.

Community member Roeut Savon told The Post that more than two million bats died in June from bedbug bites and from being trapped in nets laid by poachers catching them for food.

“It filled me with regret to see 40 bats for sale in the tourist areas of Ek Phnom and Sangke districts for 7,000 riel [$1.70] each, but then I was at a total loss for words when I heard the vendor claim that in one night of hunting with nets they could catch 1,200 to 1,600 bats,” he said.

Savon added that after intervention by the local authorities and environmental officials, the bat-poaching activity using nets had quieted down somewhat.

He said that after getting advice from experts, his community team bought insecticide and sprayed it on the bedbugs in the Phnom Sampov caves that currently shelter an estimated population of 10 million bats.

The Phnom Romsay Sak community that works to conserve the bat caves at Phnom Chak Angkam has also temporarily suspended its collection of guano from the cave floors because of dangerous conditions due to heavy rains, according to community head Lon Kim Loeun.

Kim Loeun expressed similar concerns about the possibility that large numbers of bats are being poached with nets by people from outside his community.

He said the guano they normally collected was used as fertiliser by farmers and that it sold for 25,000-30,000 riel per 17kg bag.

According to Kim Loeun, the income from selling the guano is shared between the authorities who help them protect the bats and their habitat and the community members who do the actual collecting, with some money set aside to donate to poor families in the community as needed.

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