Visayan spotted deer reintroduction
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
After more than two years of processing, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has finally approved the reintroduction of the Visayan spotted deer (Rusa alfredi), also known as the Philippine spotted deer, in one of the Visayan Islands. DENR Acting Secretary Ramon Paje recently issued a memorandum order to his Regional Executive Director in Region VI for the implementation of the spotted deer reintroduction, which will be the first of its kind. So far, no formal and scientifically backed reintroduction of the spotted deer has ever been made in the Philippines. The spotted deer is one of the most important global species and is already declared as critically endangered by both the DENR and the IUCN-World Conservation Union. This species is endemic only in West Visayas Faunal Region in the central Philippines, where it formerly occurred in Negros, Cebu, Guimaras, Panay, Masbate, and Ticao.
With the unprecedented habitat destruction and massive hunting in the West Visayas region, the spotted deer is now surviving in the last few remaining native forest fragments in Panay and Negros islands. It is believed that a limited number of spotted deer still exists in the wild, the main reason why it is listed in the highest category of threatened species. According to wildlife biologist William Oliver, founding member of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc, the perilous conservation status of the spotted deer was illuminated with the findings of field surveys in the mid 1980’s that the species has already been extirpated over at least 95% of its former range, and was unlikely to survive unless urgent actions are implemented to address the threats to this species.
The survey result triggered the development and eventual implementation of the Philippines Spotted Deer Conservation Programme, under the auspices of a formal memorandum of agreement between the government of the Philippines, through the DENR, and the Mulhouse Zoo in France. By the aegis of the said MOA, the first ever conservation breeding of spotted deer was launched in Negros and Panay in April 1990, along with other diverse and varied measures, such as conservation awareness and education and field researches. The Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation in Bacolod City, the Silliman University in Dumaguete City and the West Visayas State University in Iloilo became the hosts of this conservation initiative in the Philippines.
Through the years, the spotted deer breeding successfully produced a good number of this species and they are now awaiting reintroduction in the so-called vacant habitats. It should be noted that reintroduction is being done in areas where the species formerly occurred but already extinct at present times. The main purpose of this strategy is to repopulate the vacant habitats of species that are once available in the area. Restocking is the technical term used in releasing captive-bred species in sites where the species are still occurring. However, restocking is not necessary if only current habitats are protected from destructive activities because existing species in those areas will populate by themselves without human intervention.
One of the issues in species reintroduction is the availability of suited and appropriate sites. Many vacant habitats are already converted into other land uses, particularly agriculture and settlement. Some areas are not also safe for the species because of the continuing habitat destruction and wildlife hunting. It is therefore necessary that suitability assessment shall be conducted to determine the appropriateness of the site for reintroduction, including social and cultural preparations.
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