BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
A few days ago, I received a letter from Regional Executive Director Adeluisa Siapno of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region VI. The letter was in reaction to my article about the death of Mat Sarcino, personnel of Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, who was gunned down by two motorcyle-riding persons at the MKNP Administration Center in Sitio Calapnagan, Brgy. Biak-na-Bato, La Castellana, on 29 October. The shooting incident happened after MKNP personnel apprehended volumes of illegally-sourced forest products. Cecil Cañada, MKNP Protected Area Superintendent, said the incident was intended to intimidate and harass them from pursuing aggressive forest protection in Mount Kanla-on. Reports claim that illegal forest activities are getting rampant, including transporting of charcoal with no valid permit and authority. A truckload of charcoal seized by MKNP forest rangers is allegedly owned by a policeman.
In his letter, Siapno said the DENR is closely coordinating with concerned agencies to address the issue in MKNP. She added that the Philippine National Police and the provincial government of Negros Occidental are already taking actions to ensure that the killing of Sarcino shall be investigated and suspects are prosecuted. The incident in MKNP was not the first shooting involving forest rangers in Negros Occidental. Cadiz City Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer, Andre Untal, also informed me that, earlier this year, Oscar Magbunua, a forest ranger of Victoria City, was shot dead in broad daylight at the city’s public plaza. The case was also associated with forest protection being initiated in the Northern Negros Natural Park. Magbanua’s case remains unsolved, Untal claimed.
It is assuring that the DENR and other concerned agencies are taking actions on these reported killings, but I hope these should be done by fastest means, especially so that the lives of forest rangers are still at risk. If the suspected killers of Sarcino and Magbanua remain free, they may continue to harass those who will prevent their illegal forest operations. It would also mean the continuing destruction of the remaining forest since the forest rangers may no longer implement forest protection measures as they are further endangering their lives. It is quite unfortunate that persons working for the protection of threatened species and habitats are becoming endangered, too. It is, therefore, rightly to say now that Negros Occidental is home of threatened endemic species, habitats and forest rangers. While the two killings that occurred in the province might be isolated cases, these are no joke since lives were lost. These incidents showed that working for environmental protection is a dangerous kind of job.
Several cases of harassments, intimidations and killings involving persons who were opposed projects that may cause ecological damages have been documented in various parts of the Philippines, particularly related to illegal logging. Usually, the victims are government employees and members of nongovernment organizations involved in environmental protection and natural resources conservation. The incumbent Regional Executive Director of DENR Region VI is a very straight forward person, and I am confident that she will take every effort to solve the case of Sarcino. Given her background in human resources development at the DENR, I am also aware that she is passionate and committed to the safety and welfare of her personnel. I used to work before with RED Siapno when she was assigned as the Regional Technical Director, also in Region VI, and I also witnessed how she effectively delivered concrete results.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is now embarking in what may be considered as an ambitious and yet a very significant step in further promoting biodiversity conservation in the Philippines. This time, PAWB is not only eyeing on protected areas but also attempting to integrate and mainstream biodiversity concerns in agricultural landscapes through its project dubbed as “Biodiversity Partnerships Project: Mainstreaming in Local Agricultural Landscapes”, or shortly known as BPP. This initiative is supported by the United Nations Development Programme-Global Environment Facility covering a six-year period.
One of the key concerns in the Philippines’ biodiversity conservation is the conversion to agriculture of important terrestrial habitats, particularly the forest ecosystems. Through time, agricultural development has expanded in classified forestlands and declared national parks and other forest reserves. Today, the national park model seems no longer feasible because of the presence of settlement and associated development in formerly proclaimed national parks. As a concept, national park is only intended for recreational and scientific purposes, and should be free from other human activities, like settlement, agriculture and industrial activities.
The National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 or Republic Act 7586 introduced a radical framework from the traditional national park system to a more flexible management regime in protected areas. It introduced land tenure security for the so called tenured migrants and may allow other activities that are within the scope of the management plan of a particular PA. And this is where the BPP is relevant in promoting biodiversity friendly livelihood activities in agricultural areas within and adjacent to the different PAs.
Many of our agricultural practices are detrimental to the conservation of our biological diversity. One destructive agriculture form is the slash-and-burn-farming, which does not only wipe out the land vegetative cover but is also affecting the soil fertility. Some upland farmers are engaged in the production of high valued crops that are dependent on inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, which are not only harmful to wildlife but also to our health and the environment, in general. Many exotic agricultural species invaded our biodiversity sites and in some instances they are becoming invasive species. This is particularly true in mono-cropping system of agriculture that has contributed to the vanishing of economically productive native varieties. In most cases, agricultural development has no provisions on soil and water conservation measures.
Since BPP involves agriculture, the DENR is partnering with the Department of Agriculture in developing policies and tools in mainstreaming biodiversity in agriculture. The task includes providing specific definitions, criteria and standards on what is biodiversity friendly agriculture in the real sense. These guidelines, once formulated at the national level, shall be piloted in eight demonstration sites in the Philippines, which include the Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental.
The BPP will be working with local government units to ensure that local development planning considers the integration of biodiversity conservation in agriculture and other development initiatives. It will promote mainstreaming of biodiversity in the comprehensive land use plan and other short and long-term development plans of LGUs in eight demonstration sites. The Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc and the Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, Inc are the NGO partners of DENR-PAWB in implementing the BPP in NNNP.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The preparation for the unveiling of two new species and one subspecies of Philippine hawk owls in Cebu last Friday, August 17, took much of my time while tropical monsoon rain or “habagat” was lashing Metro Manila and several parts of Luzon during the first week of this month. Since I am currently the Vice President and Managing Director of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., which was tasked to host the event with the Philippines Business for Social Progress-Visayas, I was designated to sign and send out some invitations for the occasion. I was expecting the unveiling of new species would be an interesting affair, but only to realize that it was even more a dramatic and somehow an emotional ceremony, especially when the curtain covering the new species was finally unveiled. The affair in Cebu last Friday was quite a different one compared with several announcements of new species I had attended before, since this event was held in the place where one of the species is known to exist.
Two Filipino Biologists in the Research
The PBCFI hosted the unveiling because two of its senior biologists, Lisa Marie Paguntalan and Godfrey Jakosalem, both are holding master’s degree on wildlife, were the only Filipinos involved in the
investigation that finally distinguished the Cebu hawk owl (Ninox rumseyi) and the Camiguin hawk owl (Ninox leventisi) as two different new species of Philippine hawk owls and are endemic only in Cebu and Camiguin, respectively. Another new subspecies of hawk owl (Ninox spilonota fisheri) from Tablas Island has been uncovered in the study. The principal investigator of these discoveries, Dr. Pamela Rasmussen of Michigan State University, was the guest of honor in the unveiling, where she also presented the highlights of their findings. Other collaborators in this research included Desmond Allen, Nigel James Collar, Robert Hutchinson, Bram Demeulemeester, Robert Kennedy and Frank Lambert. The full report of the investigation is published in the current issue of Forktail, the Journal of Asian Ornithology with a title “Vocal Divergence and New Species in the Philippine Hawk Owl Ninox philippensis Complex”. The authors of this publication represent different organizations, namely, Birdlife International, Oriental Bird Club, Birdtour Asia, and of course the MSU and PBCFI. The National Geographic also provided additional support.
The announcement of the discovery of these new species is already all over the world with numerous postings in the internet by national and international media as well as in websites of various scientific and
nongovernment organizations. The unveiling of new owls was also simultaneously held in the US hosted by MSU and in United Kingdom by Oriental Bird Club and BirdLife International, coinciding the opening of the 2012 British Birdfair.
Seven hawk owl species and one subspecies
During the unveiling ceremony, Rasmussen claimed that based on morphology particularly vocalizations, the Philippine hawk owl requires treatment as seven allopatric species and at least one additional subspecies. She said, “More than 15 years ago, we realized that new subspecies of Ninox hawk owls existed in the Philippines”. It was only last year when the group of Rasmussen gathered new recordings confirming the existence of two new species and one subspecies of hawk owls in the country. “Vocalizations differ significantly between all seven species, the limits of which are incongruent with all previous taxonomies”, said Rasmussen, who is the assistant professor of zoology and assistant curator of mammalogy and ornithology at the museum of MSU. With this development, Rasmussen’s group recommended the treatment of the different hawk owl species in the Philippines as Luzon hawk owl (N. philippensis), Mindanao hawk owl (N. spilocephala), Mindoro hawk owl (N. mindorensis), Sulu hawk owl (Ninox reyi), Romblon hawk owl (N. spilonota), Camiguin hawk owl (new species), and Cebu hawk owl (new species).
10 endemic owls in the Philippines
According to William Oliver, who orchestrated the development of the Philippine Owls Conservation Programme and a PBCFI trustee, the event last Friday also marked the publication of the second of two major revisions of the taxonomic classifications of the two widely distributed and highly variable species of Philippine owls that are all endemic in the country – the medium-sized Philippine scops owl (Otus megalotis) and the diminutive Philippine hawk owl (Ninox philippensis). Oliver’s statement is in reference to the 2011 findings of Filipino Ornithologist, Dr. Hector Miranda Jr., which similarly elevated all three former races of the Philippine scops owl to full species status – the Luzon lowland scops owl (Otus megalotis), the Visayan scops owl (Otus nigrorum) and the Mindanao lowland scops-owl (Otus everetti). This finding was contained in a publication entitled “Phylogeny and taxonomic review of Philippine lowland scops owls (Strigiformes)” at Wilson Journal of Ornithology in September 2011.
Advancing Biodiversity Conservation
Oliver added, “Needless to say, these two key papers not only profoundly influence current understanding of Philippine owl diversity
and endemism, but will also inevitably – perhaps quite drastically – expose the far larger number of seriously threatened endemic owls than previously supposed”. None of these owl species, however, are included in the international and national listings of threatened and protected species despite the fact that several highly distinct forms were already known to be severely threatened throughout their limited ranges, Oliver further claimed. He added there is a need to evaluate the conservation status of these species since they may be categorized as threatened under the List of Threatened Species of the IUCN World Conservation Union.
Lawyer Joseph Ace Durano, another PBCFI trustee and former tourism secretary , encouraged his fellow Cebuanos to capitalize the presence of another endemic species in advancing forest protection and habitat restoration in Cebu, that is heavily affected by deforestation. Assistant Director Nelson Devanadera of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau said these recent discoveries further attest the importance of the country in global biodiversity and assured the support of the PAWB in biological researches as basis in coming out with appropriate and effective conservation measures. Based on the study of Jakosalem, there are only about 200 pairs of Cebu hawk owls left in the remaining forest patches in Cebu.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The information recently disclosed by the Provincial Environment Management Office of Negros Occidental that the forest cover of the Northern Negros Natural Park had increased in a decade is quite interesting. The report said the forest cover of the protected area has increased from 22,288.8 hectares in 2001 to 30,178.7 hectares in 2011, or about 7,889.9 hectares additional forest in a matter of 10 years.
The figure represents roughly 27% of the entire NNNP. However, it is difficult to ascertain if the reported increased in NNNP’s forest cover is due to reforestation initiatives, or it is an open logged over area that has already regenerated. Probably, the figure also includes tree plantations that are intended for production and usually comprise of exotic species.
Covering a total area of 80,454.50 hectares within the 11 cities and municipalities in Negros Occidental, the NNNP was declared as a protected area by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 895 issued on 15 August 2005. The NNNP is the 3rd officially declared protected area in Negros Occidental, and it accounts the largest remaining forest cover in the whole of Negros Island. The two other proclaimed protected areas in Negros Occidental are the Sagay Marine Reserve in Sagay City and the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, which partly covers Canlaon City in Negros Oriental.
The three protected areas in Negros Occidental are actually showcasing the different environment and natural resources modalities, as far as their institutional and management arrangements are concerned. The MKNP is directly administered by the Department of Environment Natural Resources through the Office of the Protected Area Superintendent. The DENR Regional Executive Direction in Region VI chairs the Protected Area Management Board of MKNP.
The SMR, on the other hand, is directly under the city government of Sagay. The Mayor of Sagay serves as the chair of the PAMB and the PASu office is similarly under the local government. The management of NNNP is also interesting since Governor Freddie Marañon acts as the co-chair of the PAMB, while the PEMO is currently serving as the secretariat to the operations of the PAMB. I made to believe that the present arrangement in the management of NNP is supported by the memorandum of agreement entered into by the provincial government with the PAMB. However, this is temporary in nature, because the Congress has still to decide what specific management system shall be installed in NNNP, just like the case of MKNP and SMR.
Regardless whatever institutional mechanisms are being introduced in various conservation sites in Negros Occidental, what is important is our ultimate goal in protecting these sites from destructive activities. Aside of course from protection measures, we also need to rehabilitate denuded areas, particularly in NNNP and MKNP to increase the forest cover of the province. It should be noted that Negros Occidental is heavily deforested, with the remaining forest cover can only be found in NNNP, MKNP and in some forest patches in the southern part of the province. Available statistics point out that the forest cover of Negros Occidental remains at four percent, but there is a need to validate this figure because of the reported increasing forest cover in NNNP and most likely in MKNP, too.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
On its 20th year, the province of Negros Occidental is now commemorating Environment Week with a theme “Green from Above, Blue from Below”. The long-week celebration officially takes off today with Holy Mass and opening ceremony at the Provincial Administration Center, where Governor Freddie Maraňon is expected to deliver his environmental message. The provincial government, through the Provincial Environment Management Office, spearheads the Environment Week, in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and other national agencies, along with several civil society organizations, like the Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation and the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation.
Simultaneous unveiling of various environmental exhibits in the lobby of the capitol, Robinson’s Place and Gaisano City will immediately follow after the opening ceremony. Exhibits are open for public viewing until Friday this week. On June 19, a series of environmental forums shall be held at the PAC. The public, especially schools, is encouraged to attend the discussion on “Climate Change Adaptation and Carbon Footprint Calculation” at 9:00 to 11:00 am, back-to-back at the same time with a topic on “The New Generation of Watershed Management”. In the afternoon, “Composting 101” and “Biodiversity Conservation: Water Birds of Negros and Irrawaddy Dolphins” are additional topics for discussion in the forums.
Everyone is also invited to participate in the province-wide tree planting and coastal clean up on June 20 and 21, respectively. Designated sites have been identified by the PEMO and the different cities and municipalities in Negros Occidental. The Environment Week will culminate on Friday with environmental jamming at the Capitol Lagoon from 4:00 to 8:00pm. The organizers of this event are also recommending to the public to take time and visit places that showcase environmental protection and conservation, such as the sanitary landfills in Sagay, San Carlos, Bago, Sipalay and Cadiz Cities, and the man-made forest of the Alter Trade-assisted communities in La Castellana. For wildlife enthusiasts, migratory bird watching in San Enrique and Irrawaddy Dolphins watch in Pulupandan are being recommended by organizers to make the Environment Week celebration even more exciting.
The Biodiversity Conservation Center of the NFEFI and PBCFI in South Capitol Road, Bacolod City will also open for educational tours on threatened wildlife species, while other recommended sites include the Mangrove Forest Park in Binalbagan, Museum sang Bata and Sagay Marine Reserve in Sagay City, AID Foundation and RU Foundry in Bacolod City for environment-friendly technologies, May’s Garden and Peňalosa Farms for organic farm products and Quiet Place in Bago City.
While the planned activities for the Environment Week showcase various conservation initiatives, let us be reminded that the work for environment is still very far from over. Negros Occidental remains a critical biodiversity hotspot because its numerous endemic species are highly threatened and several of which may soon be declared as extinct. The forest restoration in some sites is gaining momentum, but the remaining forest of the province is not yet fully secured from destructive and illegal activities, with the continuing incidents of slash and burn farming, timber poaching and charcoal making from the natural forest. On the other hand, water pollution in some river systems, particularly in Victorias and Hinigaran remain unattended by concerned authorities, while illegal fishing activities continue to threaten our coastal and marine ecosystems.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
As one of the most important protected areas in the Philippines, the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island continues to receive support for its conservation and protection. The only home to the Negros fruit dove and other endemic species, Mount Kanla-on was among the first batch of protected areas in the country that has been declared by the Congress. However, the congressional declaration of Mount Kanla-on, as a component of the Philippines’ National Integrated Protected Areas System, was quite controversial with the reduction of its original land area by 169 hectares to give way for the delineation of a buffer zone solely intended for geothermal energy development.
MKNP newly designated Protected Area Superintendent Cecil Cañada said the budget provided by the national government for the management of the protected area is quite limited, so much so that his office is now tapping additional support from different agencies. Recently, the Senate, through the office of Senator Pia Cayetano, provided funds to cover the hiring of additional park wardens, enhancement of interpretation signs and markers, and development of conservation education, among others. Governor Freddie Marañon of Negros Occidental likewise released certain amount to update the survey and registration of protected area occupants. MKNP is also included in the National Greening Program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, while some private groups, such as the Energy Development Corporation, are supporting restoration activities in the protected area, Cañada added.
Some local government units covering the MKNP are similarly involve in ecotourism development and supporting the operations of the Kanla-on Brigade Brigade, a group of volunteers who are actually implementing biodiversity protection measures. Cañada further disclosed that there is still a need to tap additional funding, logistical and technical support to further enhance the protection of MKNP, since there are still numerous concerns and challenges that need to be addressed in the area, especially involving the land tenure and sustainable livelihood of communities. He admitted that land conversion for agricultural development is still an issue, especially in the portions of MKNP in La Castellana, San Carlos and Canlaon City.
Although Mount Kanla-on (then spelled Canlaon) was long before proclaimed as one of the national parks in the Philippines, it has never been spared from logging, land titling, agriculture and settlement. Through the years, thousands of lowlanders encroached and settled permanently and became formal political units in MKNP. Almost half of about 24,000 hectares coverage of the protected area is now converted into other uses, while the remaining intact forests are now confined in higher elevations and slopes of Mount Kanla-on.
In spite of the reduction of Mount Kanla-on’s forests, it remains as one of the 128 Key Biodiversity Areas of the Philippines, because it is the host to a good number of endemic species with distribution limited only to Negros Island and West Visayas Bio-geographic Zone. In fact, numerous critically endangered species are found in Mount Kanla-on, the main reason why it is included as one of areas covered by the Alliance for Zero Extinction. Critically endangered is the highest category of threat assign to a particular flora and fauna that may soon extinct in the wild if no proper conservation measures are being in place.
Aside from its amazing flora and fauna, Mount Kanla-on is also noted for its majestic landscape and therefore a big asset for ecological tourism. The crater of the active Kanla-on Volcano, at the top most of the protected area, is a sight to behold, and the subject of ultimate destination of mountaineers, not only in the Philippines but including some other countries, too. The Margaha Valley, a dormant crater just several meters below the present crater, offers another relaxing view, while the Hardin Sang Balo, located along the trail from Sitio Wasay, Brgy. Minoyan in Murcia to the crater, is a marvelous gift of nature, where the different species of flora are competing their beauty and color. Waterfalls, with various features, also abound in Mount Kanla-on. It is therefore necessary that support from various groups is enlisted to ensure the long-term protection and conservation of Mount Kanlaon. (Photos courtesy of the Office of the Protected Area Superintendent-Mount Kanla-on Natural Park)*
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
Last May 22, the whole world commemorated the International Biodiversity Day. In the Philippines, several institutions, led by the Protected Areas Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, initiated several activities to highlight the importance of biodiversity. However, the celebration of Biodiversity Day in the country was overshadowed by unfolding events in the impeachment proceeding of Chief Justice Renato Corona and the finale of the American Idol, where half-Filipina Jessica Sanchez was vying for the top slot, not to mention the sensation brought by the concert of Lady Gaga in Manila.
The theme of this year’s Biodiversity Day focused on the conservation of the ocean, because like other ecosystems, our seas are also facing numerous environmental issues, from pollution, destructive and over fishing, and the threatening of numerous species found therein, among others. It is quite unfortunate that while we were observing the Biodiversity Day last week, several news organizations came out with reports regarding the open selling of marine turtles’ meat in Cebu. Another report further claimed that about P5 million worth of assorted marine species, including the horned helmet shells and turtle carapace, were confiscated in a shipment, also in Cebu.
The annual observance of the Biodiversity Day is very much important, particularly in the Philippines, because of our diverse endemic flora and fauna that could not be found elsewhere in the world. Our country is known as one of the 18 mega diverse countries of the world since it is hosting about 70 to 80% of the world’s flora and fauna. It is also amazing to note that the Philippines harbors more diverse life forms than any country on a per hectare basis. The following statistics provided by the PAWB simply shows the significance of our country’s biodiversity:
- More than 52,177 described species in the Philippines, more than half are only found here, but 491 of these are already threatened;
- More than 1,130 terrestrial wildlife have been recorded, half of these are endemic and 128 are threatened;
- The Philippines is one of the most important centers of amphibians (101 species) and reptiles (258 species) in Southeast Asia, accounting to at least 68% endemic species;
- There are 576 species of birds in the entire country, of which 195 are endemic and 226 others with restricted range, making the Philippines the 4th leading country in the world in bird endemism;
- The Philippines has the greatest concentration of terrestrial mammalian diversity in the world, but it is also ranked 8th among the most threatened. There are 174 indigenous mammals are recorded in the Philippines, 111 of these species are endemic;
- The rate of discovering new species in the country is one of the highest in the world, with a total of 36 new species of herpetofauna discovered in the last 10 years.
Many of these species, however, are severely threatened and a number of them may soon be declared extinct in the wild if no proper and effective measures are implemented. Habitat destruction and over exploitation are main factors why several of our species have been declared as threatened species by both the IUCN-World Conservation and the DENR. Some wildlife species are being hunted for food, like the marine turtles, deer, wild pigs and some bird species, while several other species are used as pets, including snakes and crocodiles. The commemoration of Biodiversity Day is an attempt to remind us the need to protect and conserve our wildlife species from just becoming things of the past.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
SAN JOSE, OCCIDENTAL MINDORO. The moment you get out from the airport terminal in this southern municipality of Occidental Mindoro province, the imposing and beautiful statue of the Tamaraw will surely catch your attention. Indeed, the Tamaraw symbolizes Mindoro since it could only be found in this island and nowhere else in the world. The Tamaraw is the known largest wildlife mammalian species in the Philippines and one of the globally most critically endangered mammals. During my recent visit in this relatively dry part of the country, I’ve got a chance to see for the first time the live Tamaraw at the so called Tamaraw Gene Pool of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. I was with the team of Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc. headed by its Executive Director, Grace Diamante, when we decided to drop by at the gene pool before proceeding to our main activity. We were in Occidental Mindoro to observe the class demonstration by several public school teachers on how they integrate biodiversity conservation education to their respective subjects.
To my dismay, HOWEVER, the gene pool seems just only the name of the place, where one lonely Tamaraw exists in an
enclosure at the foot slopes of Mount Iglit-Baco National Park. The gene pool was originally intended for the captive breeding of Tamaraw because the wild population of the species is getting limited. As such, 20 Tamaraws were reportedly captured in the wild and brought in the gene pool. Unfortunately, the gene pool was badly managed and only one Tamaraw is now left in the place. What happened to 19 other Tamaraws remains a question on how this supposedly important conservation initiative was implemented. The Tamaraw, known to science as Bubalus mindorensis, was first recorded in 1800’s when Mindoro was still relatively isolated. The mixed vegetation of natural grasslands and forests of Mindoro became an ideal place for Tamaraw to thrive until in the 1900’s when its population started to decline. Hunting and habitat destruction and conversion are main causes why the Tamaraw is now listed in the Red List of Threatened Species of the IUCN-World Conservation Union, and may soon be extinct in the wild if threats to the survival of this important species are not properly addressed.
The Tamaraw Conservation Project of the DENR conducts annual Tamaraw count during summer at Mt Iglit-Baco to monitor the number of species in the wild. Last year, the Tamaraw headcount was 274 individuals, according to Ricardo Natividad, one of the members of the DENR Tamaraw Count Team. However, in 2010, 314 individual Tamaraws were counted. Natividad opined that the decline in number in 2011 was due to heavy rain at the time of the survey, which probably prevented other Tamaraws to come in open fields. The importance of Tamaraw is now getting the attention of general public in two provinces of Mindoro. While Tamaraw is an important species when it comes to biological diversity, its ecology is not yet fully established. If one is not keen in observing the physical features of the Tamaraw, it can be mistaken as carabao. But unlike carabao with horns that grow at the sides of their heads, the horns of the Tamaraw are found close together at the top of its head. Moreover, the horns of carabao are “C” shape while Tamaraw has “V” shape horns.
Just like any other wildlife, Tamaraw is also reclusive and tend to shy away with people. Its preferred habitat is a highland type of forest, which characterizes the Mt. Iglit Baco where much of the remaining population of Tamaraw is found. However, Tamaraw also grazes in thick brush, grasslands and open-canopy forests. The endemism of Tamaraw may also be attributed to the geological history and formation of Mindoro. This island has never been connected with the rest of the islands of the Philippines. In fact, Mindoro is classified as a distinct bio-geographic zone and one of the faunal regions of the country. Aside from Tamaraw, there are several other endemic species that can only be found in Mindoro.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
POLILLO, QUEZON. It is quite interesting that this relatively isolated yet peaceful municipality in the central east coast of Luzon Island in Quezon province started to gain national attention due to pioneering conservation efforts in the area. Although development here seems so slow compared with other local government units in the Philippines, the uniqueness of the biodiversity and the magnificent landscape and seascape of this municipality and the entire Polillo Group of Islands, in general, are natural assets that may boost the potential of this island group of becoming one of the important vacation destinations in the country.
To highlight the biodiversity importance of the area, the local government of Polillo has included the Polillo Tarictic Festival on its annual fiesta every March. The festival started several years back with the simple parade of tarictic mascots, exhibits and kite flying competition. Recently, it evolved as an important event with the holding of Polillo tarictic dance completion and float parade. The Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Programme, currently administered by the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., along with the Polillo Islands Biodiversity Conservation Foundation , Inc. provided technical assistance in the conceptualization and implementation of this festival.
It is important to note that the Polillo tarictic is endemic to the Polilllo Group of Islands, in spite that it is only a sub-species (Penelopides manillae subnigra) of the hornbill species known to science as Penelopides manillae. This is precisely the motivation why the LGU is providing prominence to this sub-species because its common tag carries the name of the municipality and it could not be found elsewhere in the country. Aside from Polillo tarictic there are also several other endemic faunal species and sub-species in this archipelago, such as the Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia), the Butaan monitor lizard (Varanus olivaceus), and at least nine endemic bird sub-species, the latter including the two of the world’s most endangered parrots – the Polillo endemic blue-naped (T. l. hybridus) and the Polillo blue-backed (T. s. freeri) parrots.
The Polillo Tarictic Festival is still on its infancy stage, but it has the potential of becoming another popular festival in the country if only the local government will be serious about it. The Polillo LGU needs to explore assistance and support from other institutions and individuals involved in organizing festivals, as well as to engage in massive and creative promotional activities. Most popular festivals in the Philippines do not carry a particular endemic fauna as a festival theme, and this makes the Polillo Tarictic Festival unique and original.
The concept of the festival is so simple. The dance competition showcases the natural features of the Polillo tarictic. It involves tarictic inspired costumes, music and even behaviour. The dance competition therefore becomes not only entertaining but educational as well. The creativity of interpreting the characteristics of tarictic through costumes and dances is challenging because the species itself is fabulous and colourful from its feathers, head, wings and body shape. The tarictic also flies graciously and its movement can be a very good inspiration in dance choreography. The use of indigenous materials for costumes of dance participants is another feature of the Polillo Tarictic Festival.
Polillo is one of the three municipalities comprising the Polillo Island – the two others are Burdeos and Panukulan. It belongs to the entire Polillo Group of Islands, which also includes two other island municipalities of Patnanungan and Jomalig. The Polillo Group of Islands comprises of 27 small islands and islets. It is perhaps the most distinct sub-centre of endemism within the Luzon Bio-Geographic Zone and the Lowland Luzon Endemic Bird Area. This group of islands maybe considered as one of the world’s highest conservation priority areas in terms of both numbers of threatened endemic taxa and degrees of threat.
BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO
The recent Asian Waterbird Census in Negros Occidental jointly conducted by the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, Inc., Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Provincial Environment and Management Office affirmed the province’s importance in terms of biodiversity conservation in global scale. The findings of the survey may also boost the potential of Negros Occidental as an important birding site in the Philippines.
Lisa Paguntalan, PBCFI Director for Field Operations and one of the members of the survey team disclosed that migratory bird species are abundant in wetlands and coastline areas of Pulupandan, San Enrique, Pontevedra and Ilog municipalities and Kabankalan City. The variety and number of species found in these areas are good enough to propose their declaration as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.
In Pulupandan, the survey team recorded a total of 38 waterbird species comprising of 2,851 individuals. This site accounts the highest number and population of duck species among the areas covered by the survey. Among the species recorded in this site were Black-winged stilts, Egrets and Whistling duck. The endemic Philippine duck has been noted also in Pulupandan wetlands. In San Enrique-Pontevedra wetlands, some 37 waterbird species involving 10,939 individuals were counted by the survey team. Thirty two species in these sites are migratory birds. Species identified in San Enrique-Pontevedra wetlands included Asiatic dowitcher, Chinese egret, Eurasian curlew, Far eastern curlew and Black-tailed godwits.
On the other hand, the survey in Kabankalan-Ilog wetlands recorded a total of 50 waterbird species of which 34 are migratory birds. The individual species count in these wetlands reached about 13,764. Some species identified in these sites are similar with the species discovered by the survey team in San Enrique-Pontevedra wetlands.
Paguntalan, an ornithologist by profession, said the recent waterbird census in Negros Occidental yielded some interesting scientific notes and facts. She claimed the survey recorded the Little stint (Calidris minuta), which was only recorded in the country in 1903 and it was the first record of the species in Negros since 1888. The survey also resulted to the 4th record of Caspian tern in the Philippines and so far the highest number of individuals recorded. The 4th record in the Philippines and second record in Negros of Sanderling (Calidris alba) were similarly obtained during the waterbird census. The 3rd country record of the Broad-billed sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus) was further made during the survey.
The surveyed areas are actually considered migration or navigational routes of the migratory birds or also known as Migratory Flyways. In the Philippines, only the Olango Island in Cebu has been recognized as part of the East Asian – Australian Flyway. These migratory sites are very important to several species of birds that are taking refuge in tropical countries during winter. Usually migratory birds attract the interest of global birding community.
So far, there are only four sites in the Philippines declared as Wetlands of International Importance and these are the Olango Island in Cebu, Naujan Lake in Oriental Mindoro, Tubbataha Reef in Palawan and Agusan Marsh in Agusan del Sur. The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance or popularly known as Ramsar Convention is an inter-governmental treaty providing the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation of wetlands and their resources. It is the only global environmental treaty focusing on a particular ecosystem and was adopted in 1971. The Philippines is one of signatories of the treaty. (This article is also published at the 20 February 2012 issue of the Visayan Daily Star, Bacolod City).
- 2012 in review
- DENR assures action on death of MKNP personnel
- Mainstreaming biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes
- Negros Occidental’s increasing forest cover
- Threatened species, habitats and forest rangers
- Unveiling new species of Philippine hawk owls
- PNoy 3rd SONA: What it tells about the environment and natural resources?
- What’s new in mining EO?
- Undermining local governments on mining
- The Northern Negros Natural Park increasing forest cover
- Negros Occidental commemorates Environment Week
- Mount Kanla-on gains more support
- Biodiversity Conservation
- Climate Change
- Coastal and Marine Ecosystems
- Conservation Events
- Conservation Initiatives
- Deforestation and Degradation
- Forest Ecosystem
- Fresh Water Ecosystems
- Genetically Modified Organisms
- Indigenous People
- Protected Areas
- Renewable Energy
- Risk Reduction and Management
- Species Conservation
- Toxic Chemicals