OPEFUL. Norma ‘Bat Mama’ Monfort dreams to build a huge all-concrete structure as habitat for the bats in Samal island, Davao del Norte. (davaotoday.com photo by Medel V. Hernani)

Building the huge all-concrete structure — chiroptorium — will not come cheap.

Davao Today

SAMAL CITY, Davao del Norte, Philippines — Samal Island may well become the site of the world’s second man-made bat habitat.

That is if Norma Monfort’s dreams come true.  Monfort, often referred to as the ‘bat mama,’ owns the lands with the caves that are home to the world’s biggest colony of Geoffrey’s Rousette (Rousetteus amplexicaudatus) fruit bats — all 1.8 million of them as of the Guinness World Records’ 2006 estimate.

The first and only man-made bat cave is located in the United States, in the Selah Bamberger Ranch Preserve in the Texas Hill Country.  It was built by chicken tycoon J. David Bamberger in the 1990s and it now plays host to 250,000 bats.  The public initially made fun at Bamberger when he revealed his plans to build the habitat.  Since his cave’s success, he has been hailed for his environmental pursuits.  He has also expressed willingness to share its design with those who have a similar advocacy of protecting the winged mammals.

Monfort has already voiced her interest in taking advantage of Bamberger’s generosity so she can build her own ‘chiroptorium,’ a term coined for the habitat — ‘chiroptera’ referring to bats and ‘torium’ coming from auditorium.  However, the bat mama’s interest can only go so far.  Building the huge all-concrete structure will not come cheap.

She admits that the reservation is hardly paying for itself.  The entrance fee is a mere PHP 40 (USD 0.93) for children under 15 years old and students with IDs; and PHP 100 (USD 2.33) for adults.  Sometimes, she will also accept guests who want to visit the park at night but only if they are at least five of them.  Night time visitors are charged PHP 200 (USD 4.65) each.

The record-holding bats were featured in the National Geographic, while the Disney Foundation recognized Monfort as one of the ‘Friends for Change’ for protecting the bats.  Monfort said she hopes that the attention will help fund the chiroptorium.

She also hopes to help people learn about bats — without disturbing them or worse.  Many bats died after the shooting of Producers of Extra Challenge, a defunct reality-based series that featured celebrities made to perform challenging tasks, and patterned after American shows Survivor, Amazing Race, and Fear Factor.
She hopes that if she simulates the conditions inside the bat caves, some bats will move and there will be no need to disturb the population in the original cave.  “If they will feel protected,” Monfort puts it.  The chiroptorium is where she plans to take tourists when they come to visit.  “They will get the feel of what’s to be inside.”  Monfort said it would be an “interactive museum” where lectures and workshops are held.

Meanwhile, as she waits for investors to help fund the chiroptorium, she is planning to build a ‘floating’ viewing deck, which would be a raised platform that will give visitors a view of the caves without nothing untoward done to the residents.

Monfort says funding from the city, if available, would also be welcome.  Posters are visible at the airport informing tourists of the record-holding wards.  “The best support that (the government) can really give is to fix the roads,” she said.  (CJ Kuizon/davatoday.com)

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