Errol Abada Gatumbato

Energy exploration and development in protected areas

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

Several protected areas in the Philippines are now confronted with proposals for the exploration and development of energy resources. The Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental is one of these PAs being eyed for geothermal survey. Other PAs known to me that have similar energy issues with the NNNP are the Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro and the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park in Sorsogon. Although not officially listed as a PA but recognized as a key biodiversity area, Mt. Talinis, or Cuernos De Negros, is another site proposed for the expansion of a geothermal project in Negros Oriental.

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The NNNP accounts the largest remaining natural forest in Negros Island*

These energy proposals in PAs are actually not new, since geothermal projects already exist in the Mt. Kanla-on and Mt. Apo Natural Parks in Negros and Mindanao, respectively. However, circumstances on how these projects entered in the two PAs were different from the current status of the NNNP and all other declared natural parks and strict nature reserves, which are already placed under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, or Republic Act 7586.

 

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Bulusan Volcano Natural Park in Sorsogon is another protected area facing geothermal energy concern*

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Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro is also being eyed for geothermal energy development*

Geo-scientific study

I’ve learned from Provincial Environment and Management Office personnel of Negros Occidental that the Lopez-controlled Energy Development Corp. has presented its proposed geo-scientific study to the NNNP Technical Working Group. The EDC has similarly sought endorsement for this proposed study from different local government units in the province. The EDC has an existing geothermal service contract with the Department of Energy covering Mount Mandalagan, a thickly forested mountain range that accounts for a large part of the NNNP. Reportedly, about 20 megawatts of geothermal energy can be sourced out from the site, but it is only an initial estimate based on available information. This is probably the reason why it is necessary for the EDC to conduct further study in NNNP.

This proposed study, once implemented, would not in anyway entail damages to the environment and biodiversity of the NNNP. A geo-scientific study does not involve use of heavy equipment, landscape alteration, cutting of trees, wildlife displacement, and other disturbances. Moreover, geothermal is a renewable resource and clean energy source that may be able to substitute non-renewable and dirty sources of power.

Important considerations

It should be understood, however, that the NNNP is a declared PA. Several provisions of

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NNNP is a declared protected area under the NIPAS*

the NIPAS Act require serious considerations before any decision is made on the EDC proposal. Aside from legal concerns that maybe subjected to numerous interpretations, we need to discern and evaluate, too, the very purpose of establishing a PA, and how valuable it is in terms of biological diversity, ecosystem services, and other crucial and long-term benefits it offers to the environment and people.

It is not a question of choosing between “the devil and the deep blue sea”, or “the good and the bad”, just like these sayings usually imply once we are pressed with difficult choices and decisions. This is a matter of exploring more viable options and alternatives so we can both address the maintenance of ecological balance for our survival and common good, and the pressing requirements of renewable energy sources that will not destroy our natural environment.

It is very vital to take into account ecological concerns, especially in areas where natural ecosystems are already badly impaired and require immediate rehabilitation. Negros, for instance, had lost most of its natural forests, and where a good number of endemic species of flora and fauna is highly threatened, some of which are restricted only to this newly declared region of the Philippines.

In my opinion and understanding, having been provided with the opportunity to work in several PAs for the past two decades, and to participate in some deliberations and consultations on the proposed NIPAS Act, before it was enacted into law in June 1992, it is the intention of RA 7586 to spare PAs categorized as a strict nature reserve or natural park from energy study or survey, exploration, and utilization. The energy development in PAs was one of the contentious issues taken up during the drafting and consultations of the proposed NIPAS Act almost three decades ago.

NIPAS Act energy provisions

Framers and authors of the NIPAS Act provided adequate measures to safeguard declared natural parks and strict nature reserves from energy exploration and utilization, as they included a specific prohibition on energy surveys in these sites. Section 14 of the NIPAS Act articulates, “Consistent with the policies declared in Section 2, hereof, protected areas, except strict nature reserves and natural parks, may be subjected to exploration only for the purpose of gathering information on energy resources and only if such activity is carried out with the least damage to surrounding areas”.

The same section of the NIPAS Act further states, “Surveys shall be conducted only in accordance with a program approved by the DENR, and the result of such surveys shall me made available to the public and submitted to the President for recommendation to Congress. Any exploitation and utilization of energy resources found within the NIPAS areas shall be allowed only through a law passed by Congress”. These two last sentences of section 15 of RA 7586 seemingly refer to protected areas that are not categorized as a strict nature reserve or natural park. The NIPAS Act offers other PA categories where energy exploration may be allowed.

Section 15 underscored the policy declaration set forth in Section 2, which claims, “It is the policy of the state to secure for the Filipino people of present and future generations the perpetual existence of all native plants and animals through the establishment of a comprehensive system of integrated protected areas within the classification of national park as provided in the Constitution”.

The policy declaration acknowledges the profound impacts of human activities to all components of the natural environment, citing the effects of increasing population, resource exploitation, and industrial advancement, while clearly recognizing “the critical importance of protecting and maintaining the natural biological and physical diversities of the environment, notably on areas with biologically unique features to sustain human life and development, as well as plant and animal life”.

NIPAS Act intention

With these enunciations of RA 7586, it is clear that surveys for energy should not be allowed in natural parks. Some may claim that a geo-scientific study is different from exploration. If I will make a reference to what I’ve learned from various presentations of the EDC, it is true, because exploration, in the parlance of energy companies, involves locating energy reserves and drilling. However, “exploration”, as being referred to in the NIPAS Act, means the gathering of information on energy resources. I am wondering if the proposed geo-scientific study of the EDC will not entail generating data on energy resources in the NNNP. Given the existing geothermal service contract of the EDC with the DOE covering Mt. Mandalagan, the proposed study presumably would include survey on geothermal resources in the area.

Regardless of the associated provision of RA 7586 granting authority to Congress to pass a

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The critically endangered Negros bleeding-heart pigeon exists in the NNNP. PBCFI Photo*

law for any exploitation and utilization of energy resources found within the NIPAS sites, it is doubtful how the lawmaking processes will proceed if prior gathering of detailed information on the potential energy resources at the targeted natural park or strict nature reserve has never been allowed. It is precisely the motivation why the NIPAS Act prohibits gathering of information on energy resources in natural parks and strict nature reserves, because it aims to protect these areas for the ultimate goal of “securing for the Filipino people the perpetual existence of all native plants and animals,” and not for any form of energy exploration and development, either it is renewable or not, or with least damage to the environment.

Mounts Apo and Kanla-on

One may further ask why geothermal utilization was allowed then in Mt. Apo and later on in Mt. Kanla-on (then spelled Canlaon)? When the geothermal reservation was sliced from the Mt. Apo National Park in 1992, it was only a few months before the NIPAS Act was enacted. On the other hand, Mt. Kanla-on was not yet declared as a natural park when the former government-controlled Philippine National Oil Corporation-EDC proposed its geothermal project in the area. In fact, it was the main reason why the PNOC-EDC insisted and worked hard for the exclusion of its proposed geothermal site from the proclamation of the MKNP in 1998.

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A buffer zone for geothermal energy development was included in the declaration of the MKNP as protected area*

NNNP declaration

Presidential Proclamation 895 declared the former Northern Negros Forest Reserve as a protected area under the category of a natural park, and it is now called the NNNP. The NNNP has an estimated land area of about 80,454.50 hectares, covering Mounts Marapara, Canlandog, Silay, and Mandalagan in the northern part of Negros Occidental. It is being managed in accordance with the NIPAS Act, as mandated by its proclamation.

Extractive resource uses are not allowed in natural parks, and supposedly, they are being maintained to protect outstanding natural and scenic areas of national or international significance for scientific, educational, and recreational purposes. The biological and ecological values are important factors for the NNNP’s designation as a natural park.

The PA has the largest remaining intact forests in Negros Island, and where limited and yet biologically diverse lowland forests still exist. It is habitat to numerous endemic species, and accounts for several ecosystems that provide various ecological services, such as watershed and carbon sink. It helps mitigate the impacts of natural hazards and risks, like heavy flooding, landslides, and soil erosion, among others. Its potential for nature-based tourism could not be understated, because it has several scenic and beautiful attractions.

Geothermal development impacts

The valuation and accounting of the NNNP’s ecological services may likely outweigh the benefits from 20 megawatts of geothermal energy that may be generated from this area. Geothermal is a clean source of energy, but its development entails adverse impacts to the environment. In Mounts Kanla-on and Apo, geothermal development involved forest clearing, since specific sites where geothermal can be sourced out were forested. Access roads, which connected the different drilling pads, were constructed to tap the geothermal energy. Clearing was further done in every one-hectare drilling pad and plant site.

The consequence of forest clearing is the loss of vegetation comprising not only of trees, but other native floral species and organisms, too. Once forest is cleared, it will dislocate faunal species that used to inhabit there, and further add threats to the endangered wildlife in surrounding areas. It will affect the source of our water, since the forest and its immediate environs are natural water reservoirs. Geothermal development will ultimately alter and modify nature designed and created landscapes.

Other major issues

The NNNP is already facing numerous issues. More than half of its area is now heavy with permanent settlement and agriculture, community centers, and infrastructures, to name a few. There are pending proposals to exclude certain parts of the PA for declaration as alienable and disposable lands, and relocation site for rebel returnees. Several private vacation houses and resorts were constructed in the area without permits. These challenges have yet to be resolved, and here comes the proposal on geothermal energy. Do we want to maintain the NNNP as a PA, or do we want to disestablish it for other purposes? The disestablishment of the NNNP as a PA is still an option, if we don’t care enough for the remaining gifts and wonders of nature found in NNNP, and the associated benefits they offer to present and future generations.

Energy requirements

How about the pressing needs of energy today and in the future? Shall we continue relying on fossilized and other non-renewable energy sources? Are there no other viable renewable energy resources, except geothermal? Arlene Infante, an entrepreneur who is privy on energy issues, has only this to say, “ Our solar farms are sprouting like mushrooms, and we don’t need to compromise our last remaining forests and water source.”

Lawyer Eli Gatanila, a realtor who also follows energy development in Negros Occidental, provided me with a list of solar energy projects in the province, and they are quite promising. Based on the list, there are already four operational solar power plants with a combined capacity of 261.6 megawatts in Negros Occ., while two others, with a total capacity estimate of 80 megawatts, are under construction. Can we not rely on these power sources? I am sure there are pros and cons between geothermal and solar energies, but one good thing in solar power plant was no forest clearing has been done on its development in Negros Occidental.EAG*

August 10, 2016 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Ecosystems, Energy Development, Forest Ecosystem, Mt. Kanla-on, Protected Areas, Renewable Energy, Species Conservation, Uncategorized, Watershed | Leave a comment

Negros species vulnerable to extinction

BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO

The status of the Visayan warty pig did not improve through the years. From vulnerable, its threat category has been elevated to critically-endangered because dangers to its existence in the wild are still very high.

The status of the Visayan warty pig did not improve through the years. From vulnerable, its threat category has been elevated to critically-endangered because dangers to its existence in the wild are still very high.

On March 3, 2015, the Philippines joined the commemoration of the World Wildlife Day, which was declared during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in December 2013. The secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) is taking the lead in implementing the World Wildlife Day every 3rd day of March. The Philippines is a signatory to this convention, which is intended for the protection of threatened species of the world. This inter-government treaty also aimed to ensuring that the international trade of wild animals and plants does not threaten the species survival in the wild.

The celebration of the World Wildlife Day is very important to the Philippines, because many of our endemic flora and fauna are already included in the Red List of Threatened Species of the IUCN – World Conservation Union and the Department of Environment Natural Resources. These species are classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable to extinction. The determination of threatened species is based on its population estimate in the wild and the degrees of threats facing its existence, among others.

Negros Island is of major concern when it comes to threatened faunal species. It has numerous endemic species that are already at the brink of extinction in the wild. For instance, the Negros fruit dove (Ptilinopus arcanus), discovered in Mount Kanla-on Natural Park from a single specimen in 1953, is already considered a lost species. It has never been recorded elsewhere after it was known to exist. The Birdlife International recommends thorough field survey of the Negros fruit dove in MKNP and other sites of Negros and Panay to determine if the species is still extant.

Another crucial species known only to occur in Negros, Panay, and Guimaras is the Rufous-headed hornbill

This pair of Rufous-headed hornbill is undergoing captive breeding at the Mariit Wildlife Conservation Park. Successfully bred species shall be programmed for reintroduction in vacant habitats. This is a joint initiate five of PBCFI, West Visayas State University and DENR. Photo grabbed at the FB Page of PBCFI.

This pair of Rufous-headed hornbill is undergoing captive breeding at the Mariit Wildlife Conservation Park in Iloilo province. Successfully bred species shall be programmed for reintroduction in vacant habitats. This is a joint initiative of PBCFI, West Visayas State University, and DENR. PBCFI photo*

(Rhabdotorrhinus waldeni), also known as Writhed-billed hornbill and Walden’s hornbill, which is suspected to be functionally extinct in the wild in Negros, according to IUCN, since it has never been recorded in the island for more than 10 years. However, in the survey conducted by the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. last year, the species was rediscovered in Northern Negros Natural Park. The species remains as critically endangered in terms of its threat category.

The status of the Visayan warty pig (Suss cebifrons) did not improve through the years. From vulnerable, its threat category has been elevated to critically-endangered because dangers to its existence in the wild are still very high. The population of this species is now limited in Negros, Panay, and possibly in Ticao Island. It is already extinct in its former range in Cebu, Guimaras, and Masbate. The late William Oliver, a British biologist who devoted more than two decades of his life in conserving the Philippines’ endemic wildlife, described the Visayan warty pig as the most threatened species of pig in the whole world.

The Negros Naked-backed fruit bat or Philippine Bare-backed fruit bat (Dobsonia chapmani) was formerly declared extinct because it has never been recorded since 1964. This species was formerly known to occur only in Negros until it was discovered in Cebu in 2001 and was later on rediscovered in southern Negros Occidental in 2003. The species remains classified as critically endangered because its survival is still bleak, especially since the lowland forests in Negros, where this fruit bat is known to occur, are now very limited.

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The Northern Negros Natural Park is host to numerous endemic species.

Several other endemic species found in Negros are already susceptible to extinction, because their population in the wild keeps on decreasing through the years, and they are not yet fully secured in the remaining habitats where they are currently surviving. The Negros bleeding-heart pigeon (Gallicolumba keayi), a lowland specialist bird, is another declared critically endangered species of Negros. It was earlier thought to be found only in Negros until its discovery in Panay in 1997. The survival of the Negros bleeding-heart requires the protection of the remaining lowland forests in Negros and Panay, and the rehabilitation of denuded areas to ensure that this colourful bird shall remain in the wild. Both Negros and Panay have already lost much of their lowland forests. Another contributing factor to the declining population of the Negros bleeding-heart is hunting, especially so that this particular bird is a ground-dwelling species. It is being hunted for food and as household pet.

The IUCN and the DENR have further declared numerous endemic species found in Negros as endangered species, which is the second highest level of threat assigned to a particular species that is not critically endangered but its survival in the wild is unlikely if the causal factors continue to exist. One of this species is the charismatic and beautiful Visayan spotter deer (Rusa alfredi), or Philippines spotted deer, that is only surviving in Negros and Panay, since it is already extinct in Cebu, Guimaras, and Masbate where the species was known to exist before. Massive hunting and habitat destruction are the two major causes why the Visayan spotted deer remains threatened to date.

Aside from critically endangered Negros naked-back fruit bat, another fruit bat found in Negros has also been declared as endangered species. The Philippine tube-nosed fruit bat (Nyctimene rabori), that can be found in Cebu and Sibuyan Island, too, is suspected to have less than 2,500 mature individuals in the wild, and threats to its existence, particularly deforestation and hunting, are still prevalent.

It is also interesting to note that Negros and Panay shared another species that could not be found elsewhere and it is a species of frog called the Negros forest frog. Although the population of this species in Panay has never been assessed in recent times, the Negros forest frog has been classified as endangered species, because threat to its survival is also high. The species has been known to occur in MKNP and in the forest patches in southern Negros Occidental.

Another kind of hornbill has been included in the list of threatened species, because its population in the wild is similarly declining. The Visayan tarictic hornbill (Penelopides panini) is a Philippine endemic species that is known to occur in Negros, Panay, Guimaras, Masbate, and Ticao. In the 19th century, the Visayan tarictic hornbill has been reported to be widespread and common in areas where they have been recorded.

The Negros striped-babbler (Stachyris nigrorum), a species known to exist only in Mounts Talinis and Kanlaon in Negros, is another threatened species classified as endangered, although there was another report of its sighting in Mantikil, Siaton town in Negros Oriental. Just like other species of birds, the Negros striped-babbler requires immediate protection on its remaining natural habitats.

These are only some of the important species that may soon be declared extinct, once threats to their existence, especially deforestation and hunting, shall not be totally curtailed. It is therefore very important that efforts on habitat protection and restoration shall be further strengthened in Negros and elsewhere where these species are known to survive. EAG.

March 17, 2015 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Deforestation and Degradation, Species Conservation | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Protecting our island biodiversity

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The whole world commemorated the International Biodiversity Day last May 22. The United Nations General Assembly declared this event in 2000 to increase awareness and understanding on biological diversity and its associated issues and challenges.

This year’s celebration focused on the theme, “Island Biodiversity”, to coincide with the designation by the UN of 2014 as the International Year of Small Developing States. This is also to strengthen the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The theme is very relevant to the Philippines, because it is composed of numerous islands and islets, a good number of which are considered smaller islands, but yet, they contain unique ecosystems, habitats, flora and fauna. Many of our small islands have exceptional and beautiful features that are worth protecting for recreational, educational and scientific activities, while at the same, sustaining whatever ecological and environmental services they offer to the people. However, there are also small islands that have been subjected to extensive development for tourism, logging and mining, thereby altering their natural landscape and seascape.

It is also important to note that many of our small islands harbor endemic species, meaning some species are only restricted to a particular island and could not be found elsewhere. For instance, Negros Island has numerous island endemic species, such as the Negros fruit dove, which is now suspected to be extinct, since it has never been recorded after its discovery in 1953 at the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park.

Although Cebu has suffered intensive deforestation, it is very important in terms of biodiversity, because it has Cebu flower picker, Cebu hawk owl, Cebu cinnamon tree and Cebu black shama, that are only known to occur in this island.

The Ilin Island in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, is the only locality where the Ilin Bushy-tailed cloud rat, or the Hairy-tailed cloud rat, has been recorded. Similarly, the Sulu bleeding heart pigeon is only restricted in Tawi-tawi, while Camiguin has also its own endemic species, such as the Camiguin hawk owl. The Calamianes in Palawan has several endemic species, the most popular of which is the Calamian deer. The island of Mindoro, although it is relatively a larger island, contains a variety of endemic species, like the Mindoro bleeding heart pigeon and the famous Tamaraw, which is considered as the largest mammal recorded in the country. Polillo Islands in Quezon province has several endemic sub-species of birds. The Dinagat cloud rat is only found in Dinagat Island in Mindanao.

The unique island endemism of the Philippines makes our country as one of the mega-diverse countries on biodiversity. However, most, if not all, of our island endemic species are already listed as threatened species in the Red List of Threatened Species of the IUCN-World Conservation Union and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The likely extinction of island endemic species may happen once the remaining habitats in the islands where they occur are further destroyed. It is therefore very necessary that the remaining natural habitats shall be protected and those degraded ones restored.*

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas, Species Conservation | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugar industry in Negros contributed to the depletion of Philippine teak

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

SAN JOSE, Occidental Mindoro – In a workshop here organized by the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. for its Ilin and Ambulong Islands Forest Conservation Project, I was surprised at the revelation that the sugar industry in Negros has contributed to the depletion of an important endemic species of the country, the Philippine teak (Tectona philippinensis). It is only known to grow in Ilin and Ambulong islands in San Jose town, Occidental Mindoro, and in the towns of Lobo and San Juan in Batangas. Because of its restricted distribution and population depletion, the Philippine teak has already been declared as critically-endangered species by both the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the IUCN-World Conservation Union.

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(The Philippine teak)

This means that the species is under protection and its exploitation is already prohibited. Unfortunately, some local communities are still utilizing this species because it is commercially viable, although they also attest that the population of the species in Ilin and Ambulong Islands is now getting limited.

While I was facilitating the workshop, which was designed to engage local stakeholders in the implementation of MBCFI’s conservation project in the two islands, I asked for the factors that contributed to the reduction of the species’ population in the two islands of San Jose. Some people, who have been living in Ilin and Ambulong for some time now, testified that bulk of Philippine teak and molave trees were cut and transported from the islands to Negros to supply the need for railways of trains, which were used then in transporting sugarcane from haciendas to sugar mills.

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(The author during the workshop sponsored by MBCFI)

This species of tree is known for its hardwood quality. It is usually found in coastal to lowland limestone forest and tends to dominate the semi-deciduous forests, the IUCN said.

The IUCN recommended the implementation of a conservation program that would re-establish the stable natural population of T. philippinensis in its known habitat. It also suggested that a rapid assessment of the species and long-term ecological research shall be conducted, to determine the physical and biological characteristics of the habitat, coupled with a recovery and management program, public education, community consultation and resource stewardship and policy initiatives.

The MBCFI, with funding support from the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation Inc., and the Malampaya Ventures, is initiating a project to enhance the population of the Philippine teak in Ilin and Ambulong Islands. It also aims to establish woodlots to address the timber requirements of the local communities, and increase the awareness of local folks on the importance of the teak and other endemic species and their associated habitats.

Ilin Island, in particular, is the only known locality for the Ilin Bushy-tailed cloud rat, or the Hairy-tailed cloud rat (Crateromyspaulus). This species was once listed as critically endangered, but is now categorized as Data Deficient, because of its limited information. The IUCN said the species was only known from the holotype, that was reportedly purchased in Ilin Island. Several attempts to rediscover this cloud rat in the island failed.

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(The author in Ilin Island)

June 8, 2014 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Species Conservation | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unveiling new species of Philippine hawk owls

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The writer with the principal author of a publication that described the two new species of owls in the Philippines, Dr. Pamela Rasmussen of the Michigan State University. Bob Natural photo*

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

Wildlife Biologist Lisa Marie Paguntalan, one of the two Filipinos in the study team. Photo from the Facebook profile of Paguntalan*

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

Godfrey Jakosalem, also a wildlife biologist and the other Filipino in the study team. Photo from the Facebook profile of Jakosalem*

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).

William Oliver, one of the pioneers in developing species conservation programme in the Philippines. Photo from the Facebook profile of Oliver*

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

Photo courtesy of Godfrey Jakosalem*

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.

August 20, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Species Conservation | Leave a comment

Mount Kanla-on gains more support

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)*

June 1, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Events, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas, Species Conservation | Leave a comment

The 2012 Biodiversity Day

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.

May 31, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, Conservation Events, Species Conservation | Leave a comment

The Tamaraw of Mindoro

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The author at the Tamaraw Gene Pool in the foot slopes of Mt Iglit-Baco in Occidental Mindoro province*

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

Only in Mindoro

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 author at the Tamaraw marker in San Jose airport, Occidental Mindoro

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.

April 5, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Protected Areas, Species Conservation | Leave a comment

The Polillo Tarictic Festival

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.

March 30, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Species Conservation | Leave a comment

Wetlands of international importance in Negros Occidental

BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO

Waterbirds in Pulupandan, Negros Occidental. Godfrey Jakosalem Photo*

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.

Migratory birds in San Enrique, Negros Occidental. Godfrey Jakosalem Photo*

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).

February 19, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, Ecosystems, Species Conservation | , , , , , | 1 Comment