December brought the SEABCRU to southern Vietnam for the last of our “Network Gap” Workshops. Northern Vietnam has been a center for bat research for the past 10 years, but little is known of the ecology of bats in the south of the country where there are no bat research experts. This is a concern, because bats in Southern Vietnam have experienced the greatest loss of habitat in the entire country, and are hunted for food and traditional medicine. Southern Vietnam was therefore identified as a “network gap” lacking bat researchers by the SEABCRU steering committee in 2012. The objective of the SEABCRU workshop is to build capacity in southern Vietnam to fill this gap in expertise. The workshop was based in Dinh Quan province which has a nationally-unique set of lava-tube caves, that is home to several bat species, and one of the few remaining areas of lowland forest in Indochina – Cat Tien National Park. After an opening morning in Ho Chi Minh City, the workshop was split with 2.5 days of activities at the lava tubes and two days in the National Park.
The workshop was conducted in collaboration with the Institute of Tropical Biology, with a local organizing team comprising Nguyễn Trần Vỹ, Nguyễn Đăng Hoàng Vũ, and Nguyễn Ngọc Tuấn. The workshop included 23 participants—two students from Cambodia, and the remainder from Vietnam, including representatives from two universities, the Forestry Protection Department, staff from four National Parks, and the Saigon Zoo. Reporters from Nong nghiep Newspaper (Agriculture), Tuổi trẻ Newspaper (Youth), and Vnexpress news covered the SEABCRU workshop. Tan Phu local TV station VTV9 (HCMC branch of national channel) were also present. The Youth Newspaper is among the largest national papers and published an article on the second page on 4th December. This was picked up by domestic press agencies and republished in, among others the Forestry Protection Department’s online news.
Aims and Objectives:
i) To equip biodiversity practitioners in southern Vietnam with the skills to design and implement surveys of the diversity and abundance of bats in caves and forests. This will be the foundation for regional biodiversity assessments, long-term monitoring and conservation priority-setting.
ii) To integrate biodiversity practitioners in southern Vietnam into the SEABCRU network as part of our regional commitment to bat conservation research.
By the end of the workshop participants were able to design and implement surveys of cave and forest-roosting bats. Specifically they were able to:
- Safely and humanely handle bats and gather basic morphometric data and assess reproductive condition
- Capture bats in mist-nets and harp traps
- Identify bats to species using existing taxonomic keys
- Record data accurately and in a standardized format. Integrate field data into Darwin core format and SEABCRU dbase.
- Assess the abundance of bats in cave colonies
- Assess indications of disturbance at caves
- Survey characteristics of caves
- Design and implement interviews of local people about cave and bat use and disturbance
- Assess bat diversity in forested environments
- Develop outreach materials to support environmental education of local communities and authorities.
Cave Bat Survey Methods
Leads: Dr. Neil Furey and Dr. Jodi Sedlock. Facilitators: Kendra Phelps, Nurul Ain Elias, Sigit Wiantoro
• Increase participants’ understanding of karst areas, cave bats, and threats to caves and bats in Vietnam
• Provide guidelines for cave ecotourism development
• Learn basic cave mapping skills
• Design cave-specific bat survey protocols
• Assess the abundance of bats in cave colonies
• Assess indications of disturbance at caves
• Design and implement interviews of local people about cave and bat use and disturbance
What we did:
Eighteen participants were trained in cave bat survey methods.
• Three lectures on cave bats, including “Vietnamese cave bats: conservation status”, “Cave bat survey methods”, and “Responsible cave tourism practices: conserving cave bats while promoting education”
• Participants completed an interactive cave mapping activity in which they learned how to systematically document information on bats, human activity and cave dimensions.
• In small groups, participants walked through Hang Dai Km 122 cave in Dong Nai Province and documented the presence of bats, guano, stain, signs of human disturbance and other cave organisms. They learned how to use basic measurement tools to collect data on cave dimensions, temperature, humidity and wind speed. Participants also set up harp traps and nets in front of the two cave openings to capture bats upon emergence.
• At three different caves, participants captured emerging bats using harp traps and mist nets. At one cave, we demonstrated the use of IR-sensitive video combined with an IR spotlight to record and estimate cave bat population size.
Forest Bat Survey Methods
Leads: Dr. Matthew Struebig. Facilitators: Joe Chun-Chia Huang, Juliana Senawi, Ben Lee
• Increase participants’ understanding of forest bats, and threats to forests and bats in Vietnam
• Learn how to implement a forest bat survey using harp traps, and the type of forest bat research questions that can be implemented in Vietnam.
• Handle, measure and understand the main external characteristics of bats, and use a dichotomous key to identify to species.
What we did:
Eighteen participants were trained in forest bat survey methods. Four lectures on forest bats, including “Vietnamese forest bats: conservation status,” “Bat diversity studies in Southeast Asia: how to catch bats”, “Age determination and reproductive condition in bats”, “Bat echolocation sound demonstration”.
• In small groups, participants walked the crocodile lake trail at Cat Tien National Park and set harp traps across the trail in the forest understory on each of two nights.
• Participants learned how to take external measurements of bats for species identification, including forearm length, weight and tibia length. The team captured 56 individual bats of five species, so each participant had the opportunity to handle several bats.
• They also learnt how to collect bat survey data in a systematic way to enable estimates of species diversity, abundance and assemblage structure. This was undertaken using datasheets prepared in a format to facilitate data sharing amongst the SEABCRU network.
• We demonstrated the use of acoustic equipment to record the echolocation call of bats in the hand, which can also be used to aid identification
Participants all learned how to set harp traps and mist nets in forests and caves
and gather data about the bats….
During the days we had a series of lectures on the bat research techniques and conservation
Outreach and Education
Lead: Tigga Kingston. Facilitators: Angela Como, Juliana Senawi, Nurul Ain Elias, Kendra Phelps.
The lava tube caves are not protected and are mostly on private land. Several land-owners have blocked access to the caves, restricting the use by bats. Moreover, reports from local people indicated migration of bats to the area in the wet season, with bats using local homes as night-roosts. While some people utilize the guano this influx provides, many do not like the bats and deter them for roosting. The workshop therefore aimed to provide participants with methods to reach out to the local community and educate them on the bats of their caves. Several caves have been blocked by the landowners.
• To introduce participants to the principles of environmental education
• To learn how to use existing materials for bat environmental education
• To learn how to obtain information about public interactions with bats
What we did:
Eighteen participants were introduced to outreach materials available on the SEABCRU website. We began with the lecture “Environmental Education” which detailed the 5-yr program developed by the Malaysian Bat Conservation Research Unit (MBCRU), illustrating key principles in the development of a program. The MBCRU activity “Compare yourself to a bat” was adapted for Vietnamese species.
• Participants all completed the “Compare yourself to a bat” activity
• Participants interviewed the owner of Xuan Son Cafe where guano produced by a large colony of molossid bats roosting high in a rock crevice is harvested and used as fertilizer on fruit trees. From the informal interview, they found out the following:
- Bats emerge around 6 pm
- The emergence lasts around 45 minutes
- Bats were known by the owner to eat insects
- The café owner actively prevents local people from hunting the bats
- No tourists come to see the bats; the owners do not have permission for tourism
- Café was opened in 1953 and the bats were already there
- They collect guano during the rainy season and use it as fertilizer for their own trees
- They have sold it for 2-3000 VND/kilo
Lead: Marina Fisher-Phelps
• Participants understand the importance of data management
• Participants understand what is occurrence data
• Participants understand what the SEABCRU database is and why it is important to contribute data
• Participants able to collect field data using a standardized format – the SEABCRU Bat Data Sheet (provided for participants and available on the website)
• Participants able to convert existing research data into SEABCRU Darwin Core format
• Participants able to use SEABCRU Darwin Core data collection format in their future research initiatives
• Participants able to instruct others in the use of SEABCRU Darwin Core format
What we did:
Eighteen participants were trained in the use of the SEABCRU Bat Data Sheet and conversion of field data to Darwin Core Format. The Data Management portion of the Vietnam workshop consisted of an instructional presentation by the instructor and a hands-on activity for the participants. The instructor defined occurrence data for the participants and explained its uses in research. The participants were instructed in the benefits of having a data management plan and using it in their future research. Participants also learned about the development of the Darwin Core format and how it is used by SEABCRU in data collection and sharing
• Participants were trained to enter data gathered in the field directly into the Bat Data Sheet.
• All participants converted hand-written field data they had collected into the field into Darwin Core Format using the SEABCRU’s controlled-field spread sheet.
Of course we caught bats! Here are a few….
By the end of the workshop all participants had achieved the workshop aims and were able to set nets, harp traps, handle, measure, and identify bats. They could assess reproductive status and age, and record all data in field sheets and convert field data to Darwin Core Format. They were able to survey caves for key features, implement outreach activities and interview local people for information about bat colonies, and the use of guano, on their property.
The workshop closed with a discussion of possible projects, and the participants demonstrated their achievement of the project aims by suggesting the following research:
• Diversity of bats in Saigon Zoo, basis for environmental education for children visiting the zoo and Zoo’s outreach program.
• Diversity of bats in the Bu Gia Map National Park (borders with Cambodia)
• Biodiversity of bats in the Cat Tien National Park (29 species listed, but probably more!)
• Importance of bats as pollinators and seed dispersers in Mekong Delta fruit orchards.
• Diversity of parasites on bats
• Diversity of bats in the Dinh Quan lava tubes – potential for ecotourism and sustainable guano extraction.
Of course, one of the core aims of the workshop was to integrate researchers from southern Vietnam into the SEABCRU and this was most definitely achieved:
With thanks to all the facilitators, the local hosts and of course the participants for a fantastic time.