Media & Education
Volume 36, Issue 1, 2017
From the frontline intersection of research and conservation in Southeast Asia
The forests of Southeast Asia are rich with biodiversity, and Dr. Pipat Soisook intends to uncover their secrets. Soisook is the Researcher and Curator of Mammals at the Natural History Museum of the Prince of Songkla University in Thailand, and a member of Southeast Asian Bat Conservation and Research Unit (SEABCRU). During the last several years, he has been involved in the naming of 10 taxa of bats—including six new species, three new subspecies, and one new genus, the false vampire bat (Eudiscoderma thongareeae).
“You don’t see that every day, because in mammals, discovering a new genus is pretty rare. So it is big news for science,” Soisook explains.
Soisook and his colleagues hope that the uncovering of new taxa in Southeast Asia will lead to a greater understanding of bat diversity and evolution in the region.
Bats face an uphill battle in Southeast Asia. The charismatic megafauna of the region—elephants or tigers—typically get most of the conservation attention, sadly leaving bats largely ignored. Beyond the rapid deforestation due to logging, agricultural expansion and the growth of human communities that impact many vanishing species across Southeast Asia, bats must also contend with people disturbing their cave roosts and hunting them for bushmeat. As such, the fate of many bat species in the region is directly linked to public awareness.
Unfortunately, such awareness on the economic and ecological value of bats in the area is significantly lacking.
By working with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation in Thailand to train staff in proper field work techniques and collect data, Soisook and his colleagues hope to grow a national bat database to better educate the public about the immense ecological wealth that bats provide.
“We like to work with the top-level government agencies in Thailand, but we know it is not really effective if we are not also working with the next generation of students in the university and local communities,” Soisook explains.
“We bring undergraduate students from our university to the field and train them about bats and [the benefits we get] from having them around us and what we can get back from them.”
In addition to working with government organizations and the university, Soisook works with regional villages to educate them on the importance of healthy bat populations, thereby empowering people to make the best decisions for their communities.
“We go down there and talk with people and provide them the basic information, so they can use that to defend their [own community] from development and any construction in the area. If we, the scientists, go to the office of the district and ask them to stop the [development] of limestone quarries, they don’t care. It’s the local communities that have the power.”
Soisook and his colleagues are on the front lines at the intersection of research and conservation. He knows that there is much work to be done to expand his research and message for conservation and hopes that the knowledge they obtain can inspire change that will ultimately benefit bat species and local communities throughout Southeast Asia.
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