Errol Abada Gatumbato

The Twin Lakes of Negros Oriental

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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The author at the Balinsasayao Lake in Negros Oriental*

The Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board has invited me last week to its planners’ forum in Dumaguete City, to talk on the different management regimes on forest ecosystems as well as other conservation modalities. The HLURB’s land use planners from all over the country attended the forum, which included a field trip to contextualize the discussion on the actual situation prevailing in certain conservation sites. The HLURB has chosen the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park in Negros Oriental as one of the exposure sites of its forum’s participants. It was a good opportunity for me to visit the BTLNP that is now a popular ecotourism destination.

The park covers about 8,016.05 hectares and traverses the towns of Sibulan, San Jose, and Valencia, all in Negros Oriental. Its area includes the twin lakes of Balinsasayao and Danao. The BTLNP is part of Mount Talinis or Cuernos de Negros, a stratovolcano classified by the Phivolcs as a potentially active volcano within the Negros Volcanic Belt, and the twin lakes are actually crater lakes. This protected area contains lowlands forests that are now getting scarce in Negros Island.

The official entrance station of the BTLNP is only about an hour drive from Dumaguete

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The entrance station of the park*

City in a distance of 25 kilometers. It is situated in a valley surrounded with lush forests comprising of natural and recovering secondary forests. Situated at about 840 meters above sea level, the entrance station is well maintained and manned by polite and accommodating personnel of the park. Behind the station is a natural pond, known to communities as Kabalin-an Pond, where several trees of different varieties are dispersed. The trees look so old and they add color to the pond, which is less than a hectare. The green cover around the pond creates a shadow effect to the water making the scenery so tranquil. The stillness of the pond and its surrounding areas from different angles make it so mystical and rustic.

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The Kabalin-an Pond*

We moved in a little higher elevation, and there, we were greeted with the
beautiful view of the Balinsasayao Lake at the restaurant fully operated by the Mount

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The platform overlooking the Balinsasayao Lake*

Talinis People’s Organization Federation. The restaurant has a platform where you have the good view of verdant natural forest teaming with the clean and slightly green-colored water of the Balinsasayao Lake.   The community organization also offers boating services if one prefers to cross Balinsasayao Lake going to the viewing site of Danao Lake that would only take about 15 to 30 minutes. For those who would like a different adventure, there is a trail system connecting the two lakes.

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Boat services are available to cross the Balinsasayao Lake*

 

It was so refreshing and relaxing as our boat waded Balinsasayao Lake with all greeneries surrounding it dominated mostly of closed canopy natural forests. These forests are serving as habitats to numerous endemic species, some of which can only be found in Negros-Panay Faunal Region. The serenity and calmness of the water make you wonder how deep it is and what organisms exist, as I jokingly asked our boatman if there were sightings of crocodiles in the area in the past, to which he confidently responded that none at all.

 

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The Balinsasayao Lake*

It took us another 30 minutes to trek in a ridge where on top of it is another viewing deck for both Balinsasayao and Danao Lakes. It is at this vantage point where I realized why the park also carries the name twin lakes, because the two likes are somewhat similar in features, although Danao Lake is relatively smaller at estimated 28 hectares in surface size, as compared to 76 hectares Balinsasayao Lake.

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The Danao Lake*

My attention was caught when several members of our team noticed a bird hovering in surrounding forests of Danao Lake, and I luckily spotted the black colored bird with prominent orange colored beak. From the way it looks, I suspected that the bird is Rufous-headed hornbill. Wildlife Biologist Lisa Marie Paguntalan, executive director of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., has confirmed my observation, as she claimed that the BTLNP is one of the areas in Negros where this critically endangered bird is still extant.

While I only stayed in the BTLNP in a limited time, it was noticeable that the ecotourism services of the protected area was carefully designed and is now being properly implemented. Only limited infrastructure facilities are available in the site and these are the mini-wharf, shed houses, restaurant, entrance station, viewing decks, and staff house for the staff of the park. The trails are maintained, while the guides are trained and familiar on the features of the site, including the identification of species. All the sites that we have visited were clean and I did not even notice a single trash. The way I see it, the management of the BTLNP is doing good, and all stakeholders of the park, particularly the Protected Area Management Board, Office of the Protected Area Superintendent of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and communities deserve commendation for a job well done.* (Similar article also appeared at the Visayan Daily Stay, 26 June 2017)

 

June 26, 2017 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Ecotourism, Forest Ecosystem, Fresh Water Ecosystems, Protected Areas, Species Conservation, Uncategorized, Wildlife Species | , , , , | Leave a comment

Rafflesia speciosa found in another site of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island continues to manifest its high standard as one of the centers of plant diversity in the Philippines. In a recent development, a species of Rafflesia has been found thriving in another location within the MKNP. Errol Gillang, one of the MKNP staff, accidentally recorded a Rafflesia species, which looks identical to Rafflesia speciosa, in a barangay in La Castellana town in Negros Occidental. Botanist Pat Malabrigo of the University of the Philippines Los Baños has first recorded this species in the Bago side of the MKNP in 2008.

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This species was 1st recorded in the Bago City side of the MKNP in 2008. Errol Gillang photo*

Rafflesia speciosa was first known to science in 2002 when botanist Julie Barcelona, formerly connected with the National Museum of the Philippines, discovered it in Antique province. It is an endemic species and only known to occur in Negros and Panay Islands, thus far. Barcelona said it is expected that the species can be found in other parts of the MKNP because it is quite common in the area. Wildlife biologist Lisa Paguntalan of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. also said her group will look into the presence of this Rafflesia in the site where it was lately found.

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Rafflesia speciosa was discovered in another location of the MKNP. Errol Gillang photo*

Rafflesia is a parasitic plant and it usually grows in the lowland to mountain forests. The different species of Rafflesia are found not only in the Philippines, but as well as in Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, and Borneo. All of the Rafflesia species, numbering at least 10, in the country are endemic, which means they are entirely different from other countries. Unfortunately, most if not all of these species are already threatened, primarily due to habitat destruction.

This plant is somewhat “mysterious” because it has no leaves, stems, and roots, as it is entirely dependent to its host plants to grow and survive. Rafflesia’s host plants are species under the liana genus Tetrastigma Planch, according to the paper jointly published by Barcelona, Pieter Pelser, Danny Balete, and the late Leonard Co. In the same publication, the authors claimed the different species of Rafflesia live inside the roots and stems of their host plants and only their flowers are emerging, as they noted that flowers of some Rafflesia species are the largest of all flowering plants, reaching up to 1.5 meters in diameter. While Rafflesia species look so regal and beautiful, they emit a smell of rotten meat.

The number of Rafflesia species in the Philippines ballooned to 10 or 11 following the discovery of Rafflesia speciosa in 2002. Prior to it, only two species of Rafflesia were known to occur in the country – Rafflesia manillana and Rafflesia schadenbergiana, as presented in the publication entitled Taxonomy, Ecology and Conservation Status of Philippine Rafflesia of Barcelona, Pelser, Balete, and Co.

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Errol Gillang, one of the MKNP staff, recorded the Rafflesia speciosa in a barangay in La Castellana town in Negros Occidental*

The Rafflesia manillana was 1st recorded in Basey Samar in 1840s, and was recorded later on in some locations in Luzon. On the other hand, the Rafflesia schadenbergiana was 1st known to occur in a mountain near Mount Apo in Mindanao in 1882, and it took over a century when it was rediscovered in other parts of Mindanao, particularly in South Cotabato and Bukidnon provinces.

In addition to Rafflesia speciosa, some of the Rafflesia species that were recorded in recent years included Rafflesia baletei (Camarines Sur), Rafflesia Leonardi (Cagayan); Rafflesia lobata (Antique and Iloilo), and Rafflesia mira (Compostela Valley).

The recording of Rafflesia speciosa in another location of the MKNP is a good reminder of the need to conduct further field surveys and researches on the floral composition of the park. Only a limited survey has been conducted on the flora of the MKNP, and most likely there are more important species of plants, that are both biologically and economically important, awaiting discovery in this Key Biodiversity Area of Negros Island.

There might be other endemic species that can be found in the MKNP, given that several of its sites, especially in higher elevations, like Hardin sang Balo, Margaha Valley, and RAMS Lagoon, among others, have the presence of a variety of plants, many of which with colorful and lovely flowers. In fact, the MKNP management plan listed Isachne volcanica, a kind of grass found below the crater of the Kanla-on Volcano, as endemic only in the area and could not be found elsewhere.

Having the opportunity in the past to explore various parts of the MKNP, I could say that the whole area is, indeed, a natural museum of unique species of flora and fauna found in different ecosystems. While it is true that a large part of the MKNP has already been converted into other purposes, such as agriculture and settlement, its remaining forests remain critical habitats of species that are already highly threatened of becoming extinct in the wild.

For instance, the Birdlife International suspects that the Negros fruit dove (Ptilinopus arcanus) is already a lost species, because it has never been recorded again since its discovery in the MKNP in 1953. No any report of such tiny bird has existed or still exists anywhere else. The IUCN–World Conservation Union recommends the conduct of further surveys on the Negros Fruit dove in MKNP and some other remaining forest patches in Negros and Panay to ascertain if this species remains extant.

It is, therefore, of urgent concern to protect the remaining habitats and restore denuded areas of the MKNP for the Rafflesia and other species to continue thriving so that future generations will have the opportunity to still see them in the wild. In addition, these critical habitats in the MKNP are also crucial ecosystems that provide ecological services to both provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental.

May 15, 2017 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Forest Ecosystem, Mt. Kanla-on, Protected Areas, Species Conservation, Wildlife Species | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The monkey sanctuary in Calatrava, Negros Occ.

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

I had the opportunity to visit the famous monkey sanctuary in Calatrava town in northern

The author at the monkey sanctuary*

The author at the monkey sanctuary*

Negros Occidental sometime last year and, indeed, it has potential for ecotourism if only proper conservation measures, especially in the management of animals, are applied. One bad example that is currently being tolerated is the feeding of monkeys so they would gather once visitors are in the area. There should be phase-out mechanisms for this practice, because the monkeys have started to be dependent on the food offered by the sanctuary’s caretakers and visitors.

Specifically located in Sitio Paitan, Barangay Paghumayan in Calatrava, the monkey sanctuary, also known as the wildlife sanctuary, covers almost 11 hectares of private land purchased by the municipal government for the purpose. It is located in a hilly portion, and where secondary forest patches of limestone forests are now growing in some of its portions and surrounding areas.

IMG_4597The protection of the forests and even the rehabilitation of denuded parts are very critical to maintain a healthy habitat for monkeys, and possibly to other available wildlife species in the area. It is necessary to establish a production site for the food supply of the monkeys. The municipal government has started to do this, but there is a need to expand and diversify the food sources of the monkeys. The production area should have a semblance of the site where the monkeys are securing their food naturally, and not through feeding. Eventually, the monkeys will be used to again getting their food requirements from the wild.

The other equally relevant measure that should be carried out is the modular tour and nature interpretation of the site. The monkeys in the sanctuary are already highly disturbed and they should be left in a place where they are comfortable. The current practice of calling the attention of animals to gather once visitors are in the site is another improper management of animals in the wild. There is an existing viewing deck at the sanctuary, which can be used to see the monkeys from afar. The management may provide binoculars to the visitors to see the monkeys where they are staying. In addition, it is important to develop a trail system and additional viewing areas where visitors can see the monkeys without directly interacting with them. This is also to avoid “person-wildlife” contaminating each other with possible illnesses or diseases.

IMG_4607The trail system shall be used then in modular and guided tours for visitors. It is a requirement, therefore, to organize and train local tour guides and they should be provided with sufficient information about monkeys and other wildlife species that may interest the visitors. As a wildlife sanctuary, the place should be devoted to the protection of the wildlife species, with limited opportunity for visitors program that should be specifically designed for conservation education and research. As such, picnic areas and cottages are not advisable since the visitors may opt to stay for a much longer period, and may bring their own food that would further attract the attention of monkeys. Viewing areas and trails system for guided tours are therefore sufficient amenities in the site. Fully secured toilets for visitors may be provided, too.

At this point, the sanctuary lacks nature interpretation program. There should be carefully-designed signage about the sanctuary and the monkeys. For instance, there are no warning signs along the road where the monkeys are also crossing. Vehicles should be advised to slow down and avoid the blowing of horns. The interpretation should also include the setting up of informative displays and other interesting presentations that would provide added attractions of the area. There are many possible things that can be done and I am sure it is not too late to make this place in Calatrava a world-class sanctuary of monkeys, where nature interpretation and education program is also given equal importance. EAG.

January 25, 2015 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Ecotourism, Nature Interpretation, Wildlife Species | 1 Comment