A Book Tour like No Other

“A man, a van, and a crazy plan.” That’s how my editor described it. My coauthors, American’s Larry Heaney and Eric Rickart, knew me well enough to believe I could pull it off. Having spent months in the field by myself studying Philippine mammals, the idea of traveling the roads of Luzon in a van sounded almost luxurious. The plan was simple: take our new book to the people of Luzon, and show them the amazing mammals that also live on the largest Philippine island.

Luzon is a huge island, stretching almost 500 miles in length and occupying 42,500 square miles. Roughly 50 million people call it home, including the residents of its largest city, Manila. In addition to 3,000 miles of picturesque coastline, Luzon is home to incredible rainforests and both mountains and volcanos that soar thousands of feet into the sky. Crisscrossing it for my one-of-a-kind book tour would be no easy task, but now that I’m halfway through tour, I’m feeling inspired by the people I’ve met. I’m a sort of Santa, finding libraries interested in taking some of the hundreds of copies of The Mammals of Luzon Island: Biogeography and Natural History of a Philippine Fauna. When I do find the library, the books are given as gifts, compliments of a generous donor.

One moment a few weeks back reveals a typical visit. I was visiting students from the Philippine Science High School, in Angeles, North of Manila and not far from Mt. Pinatubo. I smiled at the collective bewilderment of 400 students that saw the oversized poster of a bushy-tailed cloud rat. Then a loud buzz filled the conference room of the hotel where the lecture was held. They were reacting to me as I told them that this mammal is found on Luzon and nowhere else.

The road show for the book that took us to this science school has now covered several campuses across Luzon, with at least two more still to come.  The distribution of free copies of The Mammals of Luzon Island is courtesy of a generous grant by the Philippine Tropical Forest Foundation to the Diliman Science Research Foundation of the University of the Philippines. Across Luzon, I found audiences that greeted the posters of Luzon’s mammals with wonder and excitement. Students and the faculty were amazed when they found out the species are endemic to just the one mountain or mountain range very near their campus.  For most of them, it was the first time they had ever seen such amazing animals, and their excitement grew when they found out they resided practically in their backyard.    

It wasn’t just the photos that interested them. The beauty of the book and the information I shared from the book seem to astound everyone. As I covered more sophisticated topics like the processes of island formation and the attendant mammalian speciation, they stayed interested. I explained that all of Luzon rose from the ocean floor and that Luzon is really not a single island, but a jigsaw puzzle of at least ten-now joined-islands of different origins and ages, spanning at least 27 million years. Then I explain that the majority of the native mammals arose from just two successful colonization of Luzon at around 14 and 7 million years ago.

The lecture ends with a reminder: the book is just a beginning, barely a scratch on the surface, a challenge. We know very little of the biology of Luzon’s mammals. Those who want to learn more about the unique mammals of the mountain close to their home or campus, or anywhere on Luzon for that matter, a beautifully illustrated guide to over 100 species can now be found in their school library.  That led me to the grand finale, the turnover of the free copies of the books for the library. Then Santa was on his way, off to the next school, just over the mountain. 


Danilo S. Balete is a research associate at the Field Museum of Natural History. He is a co-author of The Mammals of Luzon Island: Biogeography and Natural History of a Philippine Fauna, along with Lawrence R. Heaney and Eric A. Rickart.

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