Bats and Rice

Sampeau (Ship Mountain) is very popular to both Cambodian and international tourists. Besides being the site of harrowing events during the time of the Khmer Rouge, and being topped by the beautiful Sampeau Wat, the mountain also houses a colony of over one million wrinkle-lipped bats. Every evening, around 5:45pm, the bats take flight from the three main caves of Phnom Sampeau: Pkasla, Lakhaon and Aksopheak, in an amazing, dragon-like formation. They then disperse and travel over 50km in order to feed on flying insects.

Plant-hoppers are one of the bats’ natural sources of food – in fact, they constitute for about 30% of the bats’ diet. This is very significant since plant-hoppers are migratory agricultural pests, and are responsible for destroying up to 60% of the rice harvest. By eating the plant-hoppers, wrinkle-lipped bats in Cambodia save 2’000 tons of rice a year. Although this is just a fraction of the rice harvested in Cambodia, the amount saved could feed 21’000 Cambodians annually.

The colony of wrinkle-lipped bats in Phnom Sampeau is one of the largest in Cambodia. There is thought to be just 13 colonies in Cambodia, totalling 6.5 million bats altogether. However, due to hunting and mining the limestone hills, which is the natural habitat of the bats, the species is dwindling.

With the communities surrounding Phnom Sampeau relying on rice as a staple food, and lot of the farmers depending on it as a source of income, rice is hugely valuable to the smaller communities and to the country as a whole. The bats of Phnom Sampeau provide greater food security in a country who’s harvests are already being adversely affected by flooding and drought due to climate change, and are therefore very important to people here, whether the locals and tourists are aware of it or not.

Often, without our realising it, the animals and plant life around us play a huge role in our stabilising our ecosystem and thus greatly affect our welfare. What would originally be viewed as an interesting and novel tourist attraction actually could be improving – or even saving – the lives of thousands of Cambodians. This is just one example of why preserving wildlife is of vital important for the planet, and for us as one of the many species who live upon it.

The view west from the top of Phnom Sampeau

See the Game and Wildlife Trust and Wildlife Conservation Trust Cambodia for information, articles and events on wildlife conservation in the UK and Cambodia.

Click here to see my article about celebrating Women’s Day in the community of Phnom Sampov, who live underneath Ship Mountain.

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