Eating Bats Is Necessary in Parts of the Philippines
You may have cringed at the photos and videos of people enjoying bat meat now making the rounds in social media in the wake of the novel coronavirus. Maybe you even thought that this practice was barbaric, but did you know that many provinces in the Philippines actually eat the winged mammals?
Before we start dismissing this piece of information—take note, eating bats (or snakes) has not conclusively been linked to nCoV (according to reports, it’s too early to say whether this strain of coronavirus originated in bats or if an intermediary animal played a role in transferring the virus to humans)—let’s explore this odd but interesting practice, shall we?
Bats for Food
In a feature by American media agency NBC News in 2013, people from Mayantoc, Tarlac, were reported to eat fruit bats as part of their regional cuisine. Bats, together with frogs, rats, pythons, and crickets, filled the bellies of locals when they run out of other palatable choices.
Locals went bat hunting and caught several dozens of bats in one trip. These cave creatures were skinned, beheaded, and de-winged. They were then gutted, chopped up, and stewed. The final dish was a far cry from the circulating images of bat stews in China (which, by the way, was filmed by a Chinese vlogger in Palau).
Guava was used to tenderize the meat, which was later seasoned and sautéed with onions, garlic, and soy sauce—not much different from the usual adobo!
A man who went bat hunting and who was later interviewed by the NBC even said that bats were tastier than chicken!
According to They Eat That? A Cultural Encyclopedia of Weird and Exotic Food from Around the World, bats can be prepared in several ways. They can simply be roasted over hot coals so that the skin becomes crispy—perfect for pulutan—while the meat is cooked in soup.
Another way to serve bats is to boil them in milk before feasting on all parts of the animal (yes, including the organs and brains). This unique delicacy has obviously caught the attention of Westerners and it was even featured in the reality game show, Survivor: Micronesia! Other countries that are known to consume bats as a delicacy include Thailand and Guam.
In some parts of Nueva Ecija, bats are also prepared like daing. Their heads are cut off before the rest of the body are rolled in salt and left out under the sun to dry.
Locals who have tasted this unusual daing dish have said that the bats give off a very pungent, almost musty smell. But they still enjoy it as pulutan and serve it to guests during special occassions.
Another way locals prepare it is similar to adobo. The meat of the bat is boiled in tanglad then the soup is thrown away. The boiled meat is then sautéed with soy sauce, garlic, onions, ginger, and chillies. To make the sauce rich, coconut milk is added. Other recipes also add dried oregano.
Some of the locals believe that they may have been influenced by nearby indigenous communities, who also believe that eating bats have medicinal properties. The wings, in particular, are said to drive away evil spirits. They are even sometimes fed to people who are thought to be possessed!
Bats for Sale
Did you know that different tribes or provinces in the country prefer different types of bats, too? The Philippines P. vampyrus and Acerodon jubatus bats are larger in size compared to other types so they’re meatier.
Another type of bat, the Dobsonia chapmani, is preferred in the Negros region. Believe it or not, it is the second most important bushmeat, especially in the southwestern communities.
On the other hand, bats that eat insects are more popular in Montalban, Luzon. In the southern areas of Palawan, the Tagbanua community also eat bats but not as much compared to other regions. In fact, the bats represent only five percent of bushmeat caught.
Do locals eat all of the bats they catch? Hunters also sell the meat to neighbors and the local market. Money is a major driving force in the bat bushmeat trade. Hunters are known to take orders from their area and nearby towns. With an average wage of P200 to P350 per day from their day jobs, it is not surprising that these hunters want to sell bushmeat for extra income.
Apparently, bats are easier to hunt compared to wild pigs or flying foxes, too. From August through October, there’s a steady supply of bats, which is why they’re the prey of choice.
Hunters kill a few bats in one trip but, in some cases, when they take out a roost, they can take hundreds in just a day. In Palawan, households below the poverty line also hunt more frequently for sustenance. In Southwestern Negros, they can collect as many as 300 to 1,000 bats per week during the rainy season and 1,500 to 5,000 during the summer.
Bats for Poverty
Locals eat bats not just because of the taste, but also because of necessity. Unfortunately, this took a toll on the population of the species.
In the same report by NBC, the country’s Biodiversity Conservation Foundation also said that the number of fruit bats has decreased at an alarming rate during the last 20 years.
There used to be up to 100,000 bats in a single colony, but that declined to 1,000 bats, according to Lisa Marie Paguntalan, who was then the director for field operations of the organization.
Hunting is a big factor, of course. According to some studies, about 17 percent of bat species (or 56 in total) are hunted in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. According to other studies, 167 species are actually affected.
Indonesia and the Philippines have especially high levels of hunting, with a third of bat species in the Philippines subject to hunting despite legal protections such as the Philippine Wildlife Act and Philippine Cave Management Act, which is poorly enforced.
Even with the government prohibiting indigenous minorities to use bats in traditions (some communities believe that bats have medicinal properties), there are no records showing that these practices have completely stopped. Some locals just selectively hunt the larger Pteropus species.
Not anyone can completely blame them, too. People living in this area are farmers and it sometimes takes three to four months to harvest crops. Bats, on the other hand, are there for the taking.
Of course, the decreasing population is not just because of bat eaters. It is also because of the degradation of their population. In provinces like Tarlac, bat caves are being demolished and cemented to make way for modernization. This leaves the bats with fewer choices for habitat.
On top of all that, bats are also hunted for sport by city dwellers and foreigners who are seeking exotic activities when they’re in the provinces. This is especially true in Subic where fruit bat hunting is popular.
Are bats going to be endangered because of all these activities? Maybe there’s hope. In Panay and Boracay, the Frankfurt Zoological Society's Endemic Species Conservation Project (PESCP) has encouraged locals to stop hunting exotic wildlife, including bats. There was also an anti-gun campaign, where firearms can be exchanged for rice or cash.
So maybe if bat hunters have more options for food, they actually won’t need to do it anymore.