January 23, 2024
PHNOM PENH – Recent video footage showing three baton-wielding young men hurling projectiles toward a bat colony at Phnom Sampov, a sacred limestone mountain and popular tourist attraction in Battambang province, has drawn the ire of the public and calls for deterrents against such acts.
The bat haven draws about 150 visitors each day including over 100 foreigners.
The footage went viral on social media, garnering over 17 million views and some 3,000 comments.
“You are not only making a nuisance of yourselves but are also harming wildlife. Imagine how you’d feel if someone chased you and threw batons at your head,” Ton Sen, a viewer, commented.
Local monk, with his social media account Virak Hsbu, expressed concern, saying the harmful action was detrimental to tourism in the province, considering the bats regularly attract visitors to the scenic area.
“Therefore, it is not good for people to act like this. These actions portray ignorance and a low level of education,” he said.
Local authorities and communities actively protect tens of thousands of wild bats, recognising their vital contribution to the natural environment.
Yoeun Thol, police chief of Phnom Sampov commune in Banan district, told The Post that the incident captured in the video occurred in late December 2023. Upon discovering the footage, his officers conducted searches and visited the residences of the involved youths. He provided comprehensive guidance, ensuring they understood the law and that such abhorrent behaviour is strictly prohibited.
“We didn’t take legal action; instead, we went down there and told them to stop. We explained to the three young men that bats are a crucial natural resource, and since then, there has been no more violence against the bat colony,” he said.
Winged poetry unfurls
With the enchanting presence of numerous bats, the area became a magnet for both local and foreign visitors, enticing them to linger and explore.
Thol pointed out that the influx of visitors not only supports local vendors but also adds to the profit of the Battambang provincial Department of Tourism through ticket sales. This is attributed to the presence of a large bas-relief sculpture and Buddha statues carved from boulders on the mountain.
Phnom Sampov commune chief Pech Boeun notes that currently, the area attracts a daily influx of over 100 foreign visitors keen on observing the bat colony. The bats typically embark on their nightly journey around 6:30 pm, captivating those who eagerly await their flight from the cave – a mesmerising spectacle involving tens of thousands of bats, lasting about an hour.
He mentioned that in the vicinity, alongside the bats, one can explore bas-relief sculptures, featuring depictions of Nirvana, the Buddha of Enlightenment and the Buddha triumphing over Mara. All this set against the backdrop of lush forests.
Bats thrived in Phnom Sampov cave until their near extinction in 1995, when local resident Dam Chhang formed a community group, ensuring the successful protection and preservation of the colony to this day.
His group currently has 21 families in the community rotating shifts to oversee bat protection. Bats offer numerous benefits to the community. They provide valuable guano and contribute to a captivating natural scene that entices both local and international visitors daily. The influx of visitors brings economic advantages to the villagers through the sale of food and drinks.
Twilight’s bat ballet
Chhang mentioned allocating 10 community members to gather bat droppings approximately twice a month, yielding about 100 bags for sale and distribution to village authorities in the district, fostering a shared interest. Bats offer additional advantages by actively consuming mosquitoes, gnats and insect larvae, thereby protecting vital crops and curbing disease spread.
“When the bats venture to search for food, our community members keep a watchful eye to prevent harm. However, if they forage far from the mountains, especially at night, it becomes challenging for us to monitor and protect them,” Chhang explained.
Ham Arun, deputy director of the provincial tourism department, encouraged every traveller in Battambang not to overlook the enchanting allure of Phnom Sampov – a majestic limestone mountain steeped in spiritual significance.
“As tourists return from exploring sights in the area, their journey leads them through Phnom Sampov in the evening – a magical time to marvel at the bats gracefully gliding into the twilight sky in search of their nightly feast,” he said.
“Per a joint proclamation issued by the finance and tourism ministries, foreign visitors aged 12 and above incur a nominal fee of $1, while Cambodian guests enjoy complimentary access to the hypnotic bat colony,” he said.
Chen Sophal, the project manager of the Siem Reap-based Cambodia Bird Guide Association (CBGA), said bats have numerous ecosystem-related benefits. Advocating for conservation efforts, the CBGA highlighted their crucial role in pest control through insect consumption.
“It is imperative to act responsibly. Hunting bats, despite their common presence, should be discouraged as they serve as potential carriers of numerous diseases,” he said.