The potential of bat-watching tourism in raising public awareness towards bat conservation in the Philippines
Wildlife-watching and ecotourism are effective approaches for improving public attitudes and raising awareness of wildlife conservation. However, the ability of wildlife tourism to enhance the conservation of less appealing taxa such as bats has rarely been examined. We sampled a total of 197 tourists in Monfort Bat Cave Sanctuary in the Philippines, the world’s largest colony of Geoffroy's Rousette (Rousettus amplexicaudatus). Convenient pre/post-visit surveys were conducted to (a) explore the potential of bat-watching to raise tourists’ knowledge, attitudes towards bats, and determine how perceptions vary across demographic classes; and (b) determine potential predictors of conservation willingness among sampled urban tourists. Our study observed an increase in knowledge about bats and 61% of the tourists are willing to support conservation bat protection after the bat-watching visit to the cave site. Tourists’ conservation willingness was associated with age group, prior knowledge of bat ecosystem services, and perceptions about the conservation relevance of bat-watching as a conservation initiative. Our study highlights the effectiveness of short-term engagements such as bat-watching at improving human-bat interactions and suggests such programs should focus on highlighting ecosystem services and benefits of bats. However, it should be noted that we performed this study before the COVID-19 global pandemic and misinformation linking bats to the disease spread has increased since. We expect that public perception will change in the post-COVID-19 period and the conservation willingness survey should be repeated to understand how to counter misconceptions to develop effective bat conservation management in the post-COVID-19.
This manuscript is accepted in Environmental Challenges