One of the most distinct creatures on Earth lives in
the Philippines. It doesn't have wings but it can glide across 100 meters
of space in a single leap.
This animal is in danger of extinction and therefore can rarely be spotted
in the tropical forests of Visayas and Mindanao. Like the lemurs of
Asia, it moves around at night. Its head resembles that of a dog while
its body has similarities with the flying squirrel of Canada.
In Mindanao, people call it "kagwang". Around the world, it
is known as colugo or the flying lemur. Zoologists, however, claim that
it doesn't fly and it is not a lemur, a large-eyed nocturnal mammal
found only in Madagascar and Comoro Islands. The truth is that kagwang
or Cynocephalus volans is one of only two species belonging to the primitive
order Dermoptera. The other species is the Cynocephalus variegatus or
the flying lemur of Malaysia.
An ordinary kagwang weighs from 1 to 1.7 kilogram and ranges in length
from 14 to 17 inches. It has a wide head with small ears and big eyes.
Being a fast climber and glider, kagwang has large feet, webbed and
clawed. Its 12-inch tail is connected by a patagium, a membrane stretching
from forelimbs to tail. This well-developed membrane enables kagwang
to glide to a distance of 100 meters or more to escape from predators
like the Philippine Eagle. It also has 34 teeth that are considered
Although these teeth resemble those of carnivores, kagwang's diet consists
mainly of fruits, flowers, buds and leaves. During the daytime, it stays
inside hollow trees or clings to branches and trunks with dense foliage,
making them hard to spot. It travels fast and covers wide distances
through gliding in the forest.
The continuous denudation of tropical forests in the country threatens
the remaining population of kagwang which used to abound in the wilderness
of Basilan, Leyte, Samar, Bohol and Mindanao.
It is completely arboreal and inhabit multi-layered rainforests in hilly
areas. It prefers to hunt for food at coconut, banana and rubber plantations
where it eats the productive flowers and fruits of the trees. Because
of this, kagwang is hunted and driven away by plantation workers.
Hunters are also after kagwang's flesh which is considered a delicacy.
Its fur, on the other hand, is a raw material for native caps. Kagwang
also fall prey to wild animals, foremost of which is the Philippine
Eagle which was declared as the country's national bird in 1997. It
is said that the meat of kagwang comprises 90% of the eagle's diet.
The exact number of the remaining kagwangs remains to be determined.
Alarmed by the situation, the Philippine government declared kagwang
as an endangered species and banned its commercial exploitation. But
the problem is far from over. The tropical forests, the only place where
kagwang can live, continue to shrink.
A challenge to the government and the people is how to secure the existence
of kagwang, which by the way is found only in the Philippines.