"When I come back, I will bring with me my wife from Seoul to see the many wonders in Davao including the bats of IGACOS."
Thus, said a Korean tourist named Won Mo Suh, who recently organized a boat trip to the Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS) purposely to see what he had later described as one of the greatest wonders of the Davao Region.
Suh said he was overwhelmed by what he and eight other Koreans, including this writer have witnessed in the island where the biggest sanctuary of bats in the world is located.
"Waaah, it is amazing", said the 45-year old Korean tourist in halting English upon reaching the entrance of the bat cave which runs a hundred and sixty meters long through cavernous trails.
A multitude of bats immediately greet visitors at the main vertical entrance measured at 10 to 12 feet in diameter. The IGACOS bats can also be seen either hanging or flying in three other horizontally hollowed portions in different dimensions on top of the garden.
Located at the northern tip of the island facing the vast expanse of the Davao Gulf particularly the bay of Lupon in Davao Oriental, the place which had been transformed into a flower garden of sort can be reached by a 15-minute ride by motorized banca from the waterfront of the old Insular Hotel at Lanang.
The world's largest colony of Geoffrey's Rousette (Rousettus Amplexicaudatus) fruit bats living in the Monfort Bat Sanctuary on Tambo, Babak, Island Garden City of Samal, Davao del Norte.
Located in a 7-hectare piece of land owned by Norma Monfort, the garden charges a minimum of P20 per visitor.
The amount is double between 5:30 and 6:00 o'clock pm viewing at a time when the bats, all 4-5 million (as of previous estimates) go on a spectacular show of flying in unison out of the bat caves to either foray for food or acrobatically execute their own "bats dripping" to fertilize Mindanao's mainly agricultural land.
Current estimates by American bat conservationists who have recently visited the IGACOS caves put the bat population at five million.
According to bat experts, "Without bats, the cycle of rain forest regeneration might fail; without rain forest, the stability of world climates and much more is threatened."
Many of the world's most economically important plants rely on bats. Just one bat-dependent crop adds $120 million annually to economies in Southeast Asia.
It is true indeed that Mindanao is a food basket and you can initially thank the bats for that numbering by the millions in Norma's caves and several other bat sanctuaries all over the island. (PIA XI/Romy Sabaldan)