BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO
The capture of a giant crocodile in the town of Bunawan in Agusan del Sur province in Mindanao made it to the headlines of local and international media organizations. The croc, known to scientific community as Crocodylus porosos, is the biggest captured in the Philippines, weighing more than 1,000 kilograms and spanning at 6.4 meters. The Guinness Book of Record has recently confirmed the said crocodile is the world’s biggest in captivity. It was intentionally hunted, because of the suspicion that this croc was responsible in several fatal attacks.
The local government of Bunawan provided a shelter for the croc, and with the upsurge of curious onlookers it is now becoming a sort of a crocodile eco-park. Local officials are taking the opportunity of the crocodile’s capture and the establishment of an eco-park to boost tourism potentials and the subsequent increase in the revenue of the municipality. The croc is named after Lolong, the nickname of the hunter who died in a stroke while in a previous mission to trap this species.
The capture of Lolong did not come with amusement to all, since some concerns were already raised by advocates of animal rights and conservationists. While safety of the people was the primary motivation for such an action, led by the local government, there is now a question on the propriety of uprooting the crocodile from its natural habitat. Ashley Fruno, Senior Campaigner of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was quoted by the ABS-CBN online news saying, “The physical and mental frustrations of captivity often lead to abnormal, neurotic, and even self-destructive behaviors in animals, called ‘zoochosis. This mental illness is marked in other species by symptoms such as pacing, neck-twisting, head-bobbing, bar-biting, and other repetitive behaviors.” He added, “When you consider the immense size and power of the crocodile in question, his zoochosis symptoms could prove to be incredibly dangerous for both the staff, visitors and other crocodiles within the enclosure.” The PETA urged the release of Lolong back to its habitat.
Lolong’s captivity will not guarantee the safety of local residents, in as much that there are several other crocodiles in the site where it was captured, which is part of the more than 14,000 hectares Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary. This marsh is an important refuge of the remaining population of crocodiles. The crocodiles were first known to exist on Earth about 230 million years ago, according to the IUCN-World Conservation Union Crocodile Specialist Group. The crocodile has a widespread distribution in the Philippines before, but the indiscriminate hunting and habitat disturbance and destruction led to its extinction in many islands of the country.
Contrary to common perception, crocodiles are not actually offensive in behavior. The crocs take offense only when they are being attacked and disturbed in their own territories. This feature of crocs is no different from humans. What will you do when intruders invaded your very own privacy at home? Moreover, the Earth is carefully designed to provide each creation a specific place to dwell and co-exist with other species similarly intended for that area. Agusan Marsh is for crocs and other wildlife, and yet people invaded it and this probably gives a reason for crocs to become protective and defensive of their lives and habitat. It is therefore very important to delineate the range of crocodiles’ habitat, install warning and safety measures and if possible free it from human activities.
The other myth about crocs is that they are greedy, because of their large mouth, the reason why corrupt government officials are tagged as crocs. This accusation is unfair to crocs, because they are actually self-contained – they only eat what they actually need. The crocodiles are also important in maintaining ecological balance, because they serve as predators to other species. According to IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group, crocodilians are most active at night, and consequently, most feeding occurs between dusk and dawn. However, they are opportunists, and their preference for nocturnal activity is easily overridden if prey presents itself”.
It is quite unfortunate that Lolong has been uprooted from its home and is now separated from its fellow. I hope the attraction Lolong is creating now will not trigger additional capture of crocodiles in the wild, but will give us reflection on the actions we are giving to crocs and other wildlife.
BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO
The Philippines is globally known for its numerous endemic species. These flora and fauna are scattered throughout the different islands of the archipelago, but there are also species restricted only to a particular island. Given the geological formation of the country, some endemic species are being shared between islands. This is particularly true in the West Visayas Bio-Geographic Zone where the islands comprising it, Cebu, Negros, Panay and Masbate, have similar species composition, although there are also island endemic in these areas. The famous species shared by these islands are the Philippines or Visayan Spotted Deer and Visayan warty pig – the two critically endangered mammals reportedly extinct in the wild in Cebu.
One interesting scientific development was the recent announcement of the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute that the Tawilis (Sardinella tawilis) is similar to Sardinella hualienses, a fish inhabiting in marine waters in the municipality of Appari in Cagayan province. Such finding was based on the morphological and genetic assessment of these two species. Tawilis was earlier known as a freshwater sardine available only in Taal Lake in Batangas province and nowhere else in the world. The investigators, led by Dr. Mudjekeewis Santos, believe these formerly known two different species are actually one and the same, according to the report posted online by the People’s Television Network, Inc. However, Santos was also quoted saying, “This matter is still open to scientific debate”.
This recent finding is not actually new, because there were also instances in the past when one species, thought to be a different one, was declared synonymous to another species. For instance, the Rafflesia banaoana from Kalinga province, described by Botanist Pastor Malabrigo as a separate species, was refuted by the group of Botanist Julie Barcelona as the same species with that of Rafflesia leonardi, a species discovered in the adjacent Cagayan province. Malabrigo, however, is maintaining the species he discovered in Kalinga, specifically in Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park, is a different kind of Rafflesia.
Another similarity of species also involves another species of Rafflesia. The Rafflesia speciosa, which was first recorded and described in Antique by Barcelona, was also later recorded in Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros by Malabrigo. Similarity of species composition between Negros and Panay is due to the fact that they are one landmass many years ago. The Negros bleeding heart pigeon was thought to be an endemic species of Negros until it was discovered in Panay in 1990’s. Similarly, the Dobsonia chapmani, also known as the Negros naked-backed fruit bat, was considered as an extinct endemic species of Negros, until it was recorded in Cebu by the group of Biologist Lisa Paguntalan. However, this fruit bat was rediscovered in southern Negros Occidental by the group of Dr. Ely Alcala.
It is quite unfortunate though that most of our endemic species are already declared as threatened species by the IUCN-World Conservation Union and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, meaning their population in the wild is getting limited, and may face extinction if no proper protection measures are instituted. Even Tawilis is similarly threatened, because its production declines through the years. The commercial value of this sardine is a constraint in declaring it as a threatened and protected species. Habitat destruction and over exploitation of endemic species are two major reasons why many species are listed as threatened species. Many of our endemic flora and fauna are forest dependent and the remaining natural forest in the country is already limited.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The hydraulic ram pump project of the Aid Foundation in Negros Occidental is now getting international prominence and recognition with its inclusion as one of the 12 finalists in the 2010 World Challenge Completion. Now on its 6th year, this competition, hosted by the BBC World News and Newsweek, in cooperation with Shell, is aimed in finding projects or small businesses around the world that have shown enterprise and innovation at grassroots levels. The World Challenge is also about championing and rewarding projects and businesses, which really make a difference. The entry of Aid Foundation in this competition is titled “The Only Way is Up”, which clearly describes the ram pump technology.
According to Aid Foundation, “the hydraulic ram pump is a device that pumps water up to high
elevation through the use of energy contained in falling water passing through it”. Although it is already an old technology, the huge potentials of the ram pump have never been maximized because old models are hard to acquire and some with inferior quality. Through the innovation of Aid Foundation, a perfect model was developed and installed in 170 villages across the Philippines.
The development of this technology was motivated by Aid Foundation’s realization that water is a vital need for drinking and irrigation in upland communities. However, Aid is not only focusing on technology installation but it also mainstreams community development activities, such as capacity building, formation of water associations, and watershed rehabilitation, in areas where the ram pump shall be installed. Approximately, more than 50,000 people have already benefitted from the technology, the Aid claimed on its nomination paper in the World Challenge.
Through the years, the nine different sizes of ram pumps developed by Aid has captured the interest of both government and non-government institutions and has been taken into international levels through technology transfer with other countries, such as Holland, France, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Peru, Malaysia, Japan, Nepal, and USA. In Afghanistan, the technology has been fully transferred and where the model is now being produced and installed. The growing demand of the technology has further encouraged the Aid Foundation in developing bigger sizes of ram pumps for irrigation purposes.
To compete with the market, the Aid has developed a working miniature model of its technology, which is being used in promotional activities here and abroad. A Techno Park, featuring the various ram pump models, is also installed at the office of Aid Foundation in Bacolod City. This initiative has already gained local and international awards, like the Ashden Awards, Energy Globe and recognition from former US President Bill Clinton.
The World Challenge is an online voting competition at http://www.theworldchallenge.co.uk. The voting shall run from September 27 to November 12 this year, while the winner and two runners up shall be announced in an awarding ceremony in the Netherlands, which shall also be broadcasted in BBC on December 4, 2010. The profiles of the winners shall also appear in the December 21, 2010 issue of the Newsweek.
Competing with Aid Foundation in the World Challenge is the other entry from the Philippines known as the “Growth Cycle”. The Growth Cycle is about the invention of a bamboo bicycle frame by high-end bicycle designer Craig Calfee. The bike is now available in the Philippines and it is now being considered for export in Europe and USA.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
It is quite encouraging that no less than the provincial government of Negros Occidental, under Governor Alfredo
Marañon Jr., has emphasized the need to protect the already threatened environment of the province, which is being considered as one of the biodiversity hotspots of the Philippines. The European Commission has provided funding support, amounting to P22.4 million, to further boost the conservation initiatives of the provincial government.
The EC fund shall be provided with P3.9 million by the provincial government to implement a two-year project entitled “Effective Natural Resources Governance through Inter-Local Government Alliances”. As the project title clearly implies, this effort is geared toward enhancing the capacity of the different multi–sectoral groups in delivering conservation outcomes in the different cities and municipalities of the province.
As reported in this paper last week, these alliances include the management of the Northern Negros Natural Park,
Northern Negros Aquatic Resources Management and Advisory Council, Central Negros Council for Coastal Resources and Development (LGUs from Bago to Binalbagan, the Kabankalan, Himamaylan, Ilog-Integrated Coastal Management Council, and the Southern Negros Coastal Development Council) towns of Cauayan and Hinoba-an along with Sipalay City).
The support of the EC for this project is very crucial to ensure that local governing bodies are provided with necessary capacity to implement concrete measures in protecting the environment, particularly the forest, coastal, and marine ecosystems. Just like the terrestrial natural forest of Negros Occidental that is barely four percent of the province’s total land area, the mangrove forest left is only limited to a few thousands hectares or less. In general, the coral reef in Negros Occidental is in bad state and confined also in a limited space.
The degradation of the different ecosystems of Negros Occidental is already alarming with a good number of endemic
species, especially the forest-dependent species, included in the list of threatened species. The protection of the remaining forests, particularly the Northern Negros Natural Park, the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park and the forest patches in southern Negros Occidental, is crucial to the survival of these globally important species. It is therefore important that effective protection measures are carried out to ensure the survival of these species, some of which are only available in Negros and nowhere else in the world.
Similarly, the protection of the coastal and marine ecosystems is not only necessary to maintain ecological balance, but including the sustainability of the fishery production and food security. Through the years, fishery production has declined because of the wanton destruction of mangroves and coral reefs, which serve as important spawning grounds of numerous and commercially important species.
On the other hand, the forest degradation in Negros Occidental is so severe such that forest rehabilitation and restoration efforts have to be intensified not only for the purpose of protecting threatened species but in ensuring the continuous freshwater supply. Many of the critical watersheds of the province are in serious state of denudation and the declining water supply has been felt in several areas, especially during summer. However, forest rehabilitation should make sure that the tree plantations being established have a semblance of what is really a natural forest by planting diverse endemic species. Some tree plantations are not really meant to renew the real forest because they involve planting of exotic species, like gmelina, mahogany, and eucalyptus, which according to experts are not actually watershed appropriate species.
The pronouncement of Marañon that the provincial government under his stewardship will prioritize even more environmental protection is encouraging and many are hoping that illegal activities in forest, coastal, and marine ecosystems, which are still rampant in several areas, shall be dealt accordingly. (This article also appeared in the August 02, 2010 issue of the Visayan Daily Star in Bacolod City, Philippines)*
BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO
BULUSAN VOLCANO NATURAL PARK… Some claims that this protected area is the “Little Switzerland” of
the Bicol Region seems not so far from certainty. Having been to Switzerland sometime in the past, I could relate pretty well to what local folks say about this lovely place, located about 680 kilometers south of Metro Manila. The cool, serene, and refreshing natural features of the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park are somehow comparable to the scenic countryside of Switzerland, although the main divergence is the type of vegetation. The tropical forest of the BVNP is much more diverse in terms of composition than what the Swiss people have.
One of the major attractions of the park, which borders five municipalities in Sorsogon province in Bicol, is the tranquil Bulusan Lake, a name derived from its host municipality. The lake’s fascinating features are truly reflections of masterpieces place into one by the nature’s marvelous handiwork. The lush forest surrounding the lake is so awesome and breathtaking, while the broad daylight provides a mystical shadow effect of the greeneries to the clear water. This spectacular scenery will surely remind anyone of the marvelous creations that need to be protected for everyone to appreciate, enjoy, and cherish for a life time.
Lake Bulusan is a very good place to relax from the hassles of urban life, and where one can enjoy a leisurely walk in a carefully designed trail surrounding the lake and beneath the green canopies. The forest encircling the lake is still in a pristine state with various dipterocarp trees adorned by numerous floral species that look like a hanging garden. For bird enthusiasts, Lake Bulusan is a place worth looking into. Kayaking is another refreshing outdoor activity in the lake. Interestingly, the lake is currently managed by volunteers from Aggrupation of Advocates for Environmental Protection or locally known as the Agap-Bulusan.
The BVNP pride itself with several other gifts of nature, like springs, rivers, hot springs, and waterfalls that are now getting the attention of local and foreign tourists alike. It is an imposing landmark in Sorsogon, towering at an altitude of 1,565 meters above sea level, which makes this protected area as one of the mountaineering destinations in the Philippines.
However, in spite of the tranquility usually displayed by the Bulusan Volcano, it may also unleash its mighty
force since it is one of the most active volcanoes in the country. The volcano has four craters and exhibited a number of eruptions over the last few years. Volcanologists labeled it as a composite volcano inside a caldera that was formed more than 40,000 years before the present.
Together with four other hired specialists of the Resources, Environment and Economics Center for Studies, we conducted a rapid site assessment to this protected area commissioned by the Foundation for the Philippine Environment. The assessment involved the physical, biological, social, cultural, economics, and governance conditions of the BVNP.
Our study showed that the forest in this protected area is an important habitat of numerous endemic species of plants, such as the Forestia philippinensis, Pinanga insignis, Areca camarinensis, Mussaenda phillipica and two newly discovered species, Schefflina bulusanicum and Pronephrium bulusanicum. Rare and threatened species can also be found in BVNP, such as the Jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys), the ground orchid (Phojus tankervillea), and Tindalo (Afzelia rhomboidea). The mountain agoho (Casuarina rumphiana), which is known to have a very limited distribution in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, inhabits this protected area.
Similarly, the fauna features of the BVNP are showing high species endemism, estimated at 43% of all the species surveyed during the RSA. Four of these species are known as high conservation priorities because they are already classified as threatened species, like the Golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatos), the Southern Luzon giant cloud rat (Phloeomys cumingii), the Philippine warty pig (Sus philippensis) and the Luzon Tarictic hornbill (Penelopides manillae).
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
TAAL VOLCANO PROTECTED LANDSCAPE, Batangas — The Taal Lake and Taal Volcano, both located in the province of Batangas and not in Tagaytay City, as commonly perceived, are two of the most popular landmarks in the Philippines. The active Taal Volcano is surrounded by the third largest lake in the country, and these two sites and adjoining areas have been declared as the Taal Volcano Protected Landscape. The TVPL has remarkable and unique features, its entire landscape is picturesque, and comparable to some of the world’s famous protected areas.
Taal Lake has an oval outline and measures 24,356 hectares, with a circumference of 120 kilometers, and a maximum depth of 198 meters. Its center is the 23.8 square kilometers Volcano Island, where at the middle of it lies the 1.9 kilometers crater lake, also known as the lake within the lake. More than its awesome and refreshing view, Taal Lake is a very important ecosystem, because it supports a good number of diverse fauna, comprised of both freshwater and marine species that are commercially important. But more than its economic relevance, Taal Lake is a biologically important site, since it is the only known area in the world for the freshwater sardine, locally known as “Tawilis” or scientifically described as Sardinella tawilis.
The entire biology of Tawilis is hardly known, but so far there are no available records attesting that this species is also occurring in
other freshwater ecosystems in the Philippines. However, the biological importance and conservation values of this endemic fish are not given full attention, since it is being commercially harvested in the area. A lot of fishers and many residents of Batangas, in general, are probably not aware that this species is only known to occur in Taal Lake and how valuable Tawilis is in the global biodiversity context.
The maximum size of Tawilis is only 15.2 centimeters and its maximum weight is 27.3 grams. According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Region IV-A, Tawilis is believed to have migrated from Balayan Bay to Taal Lake when the latter was formed by several volcanic eruptions hundreds of years ago. A freshwater fish expert named as a certain, Herre, described the species as Harengula tawilis, in 1927, but another expert known only as Wongratana re-described it in 1980 as Sardinella tawilis and listed Tawilis as one of 18 species of Sardinella in the Indo-Pacific Region. On the other hand, Whitehead in 1985 listed Tawilis as one of the 21 species of Sardinella worldwide and considered it as the only freshwater Sardinella, the BFAR report said.
Tawilis is the most commercially dominant fish catch in Taal Lake. It is mainly caught by gill net, beach seine, ring net and motorized push net. Reports of the BFAR claim the highest production of Tawilis was recorded in 1984, estimated at 29,000 metric tons followed by 8,798 metric tons in 1988. However, Tawilis production slowly declined from 744 metric tons in 1996 to 294 metric tons in 2000. The BFAR attributed the declining production of Tawilis to illegal operation of active fishing gear, like the motorized push net and ring net, overfishing, proliferation of fish cages and deterioration of water quality in the lake. The BFAR noted the issues affecting the declining production of Tawilis are serious, and may pose a grave threat not only to Tawilis production, but to the very existence of this Taal endemic fish.
Professor Gordon McGregor-Reid, Global chair of the IUCN-World Conservation Union Freshwater Fish Specialist Group, and at the same time the chief operating officer of the North of England Zoological Society or
Chester Zoo, who visited Taal Lake last week, opined the existence of Tawilis is seriously threatened. This is due to the presence of numerous introduced exotic species in Taal Lake, some which may likely predators of this species. He also said that other environmental factors, like the water quality and pollution from fish feeds in fish cages, are also noticeable. McGregor-Reid underscored the endemic status of Tawilis, being known to occur only in Taal Lake, and the issues facing its existence merit the designation of the species as conservation important, and possibly be listed in the threatened species of the world. However, the commercial importance of Tawilis may likely be a constraint for its classification as a threatened species.
(This Article also appeared at the Visayan Daily Star, 22 February 2010 issue, Bacolod City, Philippines)
- Some concerns on the reopening of Mount Apo for mountaineering
- Flowering trees in Mount Kanla-on gaining public attention
- Green and open spaces for Bacolod
- Climate change nightmares – RollingStone
- Energy exploration and development in protected areas
- Commendable collective efforts: Putting off grassfires in Mt. Kanla-on
- Closing a mountain for mountaineering: The story of Mt. Kanla-on
- The KGB of Mount Kanla-on
- Negros species vulnerable to extinction
- The monkey sanctuary in Calatrava, Negros Occ.
- Conservation matters to His Holiness
- 2014 in review
- 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
- Mt. Kanla-on
- Nature Interpretation
- Protected Areas
- Renewable Energy
- Risk Reduction and Management
- Species Conservation
- Toxic Chemicals
- Wildlife Species