Threatened habitats and species in southern Negros Occidental
BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO
CANDONI, Negros Occidental – It’s been a decade since I last visited this upland municipality of Negros Occidental. My recent trip to Candoni was made possible through the invitation of Lulu Tison of the Paghiliusa sa Paghidaet Negros to our group, the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., to conduct a training on biodiversity and watershed management. The training was held at the Cantomanyog Peace Zone with participants coming from the different partner organizations of the PsPN in southern Negros Occidental.
Aside from the training, I was also interested to going to Candoni because of information that several Negros endemic species are still thriving in the remaining forest patches bordering this town, Cauayan, Sipalay, and Hinobaan. These forest fragments are now attracting the attention of conservation communities because of the rediscovery of the Philippine Bare-backed fruit bat, also known as the “Dobsonia chapmani”, in a remote village of Sipalay.
The “Dobsonia chapmani”, also called as Negros Naked-backed
fruit bat, was considered extinct in Negros Island because it has never been recorded since 1963 until it was rediscovered in 2003 by the group of Dr. Ely Alcala of Silliman University. This mysterious species was earlier thought to be a Negros endemic species, until it was recorded in Cebu by the group of biologist Lisa Marie Paguntalan in 2001. Both the IUCN-World Conservation Union and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have declared Dobsonia chapmani as critically endangered, because its population declined to about 80 percent over three generations (15-20 years).
It is not a remote possibility that Dobsonia chapmani may also inhabit nearby areas where it was rediscovered in 2003, especially in the vicinity of Candoni. During our discussion at the training on threatened species, we relayed the information about the Dobsonia chapmani to the participants and they claimed that there are indeed several bat colonies in the uplands of Candoni, Sipalay, Cauayan and Hinobaan. However, the training participants are not familiar with the kind of bat species available in their localities and are not even fully aware of the conservation values of fruit bats, which they call as “Kabog”.
During the training, the unfamiliarity of participants on the importance of Negros Island in terms of biological diversity was quite revealing. When our training team, composed of Paguntalan, Wildlife Zoologist Mimie Ledesma, Biologist Rai Gomez, Veterinarian Joanne Justo, and Forester Ace Santocildes of the DENR, presented photos on the different endemic species of Negros, the participants were in agreement in saying that some are still available in the remaining forests in southern Negros Occidental, particularly the equally critically endangered Philippine spotted deer, Visayan warty pig and Negros bleeding heart Pigeon, among others. The training participants, however, attested that the spotted deer and warty pig are now getting scarce since these animals were heavily hunted for food in the past. Occasionally, there are still traders of wildlife meat in the area, a number of training participants claimed.
While hunting could be a factor for the endangerment of several Negros endemic species, the most visible factor is the
severe denudation of southern Negros Occidental’s timberlands, and the patches of the remaining forest in the area are not yet secured from destructive resource use practices. These areas in the south have been subjected to extensive commercial logging in the past, and logged over areas were further converted into permanent agricultural and settlement sites. In spite that the remaining forests in southern part of Negros Occidental are already fragmented, their conservation importance should not be understated because of their features as limestone forests, which are quite unique and host to numerous flora and fauna.
Unfortunately, the continuing slash and burn farming and rampant charcoal production are posing serious threats to the remaining forest in southern Negros Occidental. Moreover, upland residents in these areas are still heavily relying on the remaining forest for domestic timber and fuel wood requirements in the absence of legal and legitimate sources. When our group was in this municipality, members of the Philippine National Police apprehended a vehicle loaded with mixed of kamagong and narra lumber, both are banned and threatened species.
The protection of the remaining forests and the rehabilitation of denuded areas in the south of Negros Occidental are not only necessary for the survival of threatened species but including the continuing provision of freshwater to upland and downstream communities. It is on this account that the different partner organizations of the PsPN are volunteering to engage in watershed protection and rehabilitation because they are now experiencing scarcity of freshwater, especially during summer.
However, forest protection and rehabilitation measures are not enough once issues related to forest-dependent livelihoods are left unattended. It is therefore necessary that both local and national government agencies have to consider a holistic approach in addressing the realities of environmental degradation in the uplands of southern Negros Occidental. (This article also appeared in the July 19, 2010 issue of the Visayan Daily Star in Bacolod City, Philippines)
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