The sanctuary has been home to at least 10,000 birds, mainly the nocturnal Black Crowned Night Heron and Cattle Egret. The former is believed to have originated from Japan and the latter, which locals called tulabong, is endemic, white and commonly seen in rice fields.
"I appeal to them to please stop the bird hunting activities. These egrets are going to the rice paddies and eat black bugs and worms. They are helping the farmers and not destructive to them," Malana said.
Bird poaching is rampant in Sampao, Isulan town in Sultan Kudarat, a neighboring village of Baras, despite Republic Act 9147, he added.
RA 9147, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, aims to protect the country's fauna from illicit trade, abuse and destruction, through conserving and protecting wildlife species and their habitats and regulating the collection and trade of wildlife, among others.
Birds that are caught from the area are sold for as low as P15 each by customers in Sultan Kudarat province as well as in Koronadal City and Norala, both in South Cotabato province, it was learned
Malana said bird poaching thrives in the area because people believe they are aphrodisiacs, or can enhance the sexual prowess.
He noted they could not apprehend the bird poachers since they have not been deputized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Jim O. Sampulna, DENR director for Southwestern Mindanao, said he was unaware that bird poaching in the Baras bird sanctuary has become rampant and that he will initiate an investigation.
"I will recommend to the DENR Secretary (Lito Atienza) that they will be made deputized personnel so they can go after the bird poachers," Sampulna said.
The Tacurong city government declared Baras a bird sanctuary on August 7, 2002.
"You cannot compare our bird sanctuary to the rest of the bird sanctuaries in the Philippines. The night herons, from being a migratory bird, have made our place their permanent residence," Malana said.
Haribon Foundation, an environmental group, had been impressed by the Baras bird sanctuary, according to him.
Romeo Jacobo, Sr., one of the four wildlife wardens paid by the city government to take care of the bird habitat, had earlier said, "Before the crack of dawn, it is beautiful here because of the birds' sounds. With the gush of a nearby river and the brushing of leaves by the wind, the sounds of birds altogether bring a natural orchestra."
The birds hunt for food, particularly fishes, in Liguasan marsh, Lake Buluan and Lake Sebu. Liguasan and Lake Buluan straddle part of North Cotabato and Maguindanao while Lake Sebu is in South Cotabato. The birds were also monitored as hunting food in the remote coastal town of Lebak in Sultan Kudarat.
"They leave around 5:30 in the afternoon and come back at 4:30 in the morning. These are their established routine," Jacobo said.
Aside from fishes, the birds feed on fish, frogs, lizards, worms, rats and even newly hatched chicks if unguarded.
Malana said that while maintaining the birds is cheap since there are no feeding costs, the problem arises from rampant bird poaching. (MindaNews)