Battling extinction in Mt. Kitanglad Range: Reemerging species

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MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/14 July) – Elito Guinoay, a Higaonon Lumad living in Sitio Lantud, barangay Sagaran in Talakag, Bukidnon, is one of the buffer zone residents who availed of livelihood funds for abaca production. A traditional crop, he said abaca helps in conservation because it thrives best in cool, shaded areas and so the farmer would do well not to cut the trees [around his farm].

Like other areas around Mt. Kitanglad the forests in Guinoay’s village as well as other areas of Talakag were given out to logging companies through Timber License Agreements issued by the Bureau of Forest Development, the precursor of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Two of the biggest logging firms that operated there were the P.N. Roa Enterprises, whose TLA also covered Libona and Baungon towns, and the Elias Dacudao Company. Guinoay said the massive logging operations had caused a rapid decline in the number of wild pigs, an important source of protein in uplands where fish are rare.

Years after their active involvement in the Kitanglad Guard Volunteers (KGV) during which the number of illegal activities inside the park drastically decreased, Guinoay observed that the number of wild pigs seemed to have increased. He said there were even times that large groups of these animals would invade their camote (sweet potato) farms, something that had not happened after logging came. He interpreted it as a sign that the health of the forest in the area may have improved.

Reports from the protected area staff of Mt. Kitanglad likewise suggested an improved ecological condition in the park. The reports were based on the findings of a system of determining the status of biodiversity introduced by Nordeco. Called Biodiversity Monitoring System and done on a quarterly basis, it makes use of four methods: photodocumentation, field diary, transect walk and focus group discussion [with local communities].

In the field diary method the staff, usually accompanied by community members or KGVs, lists the species seen and their number if possible. The presence of community members is important since they provide the local names of the faunal species in case the staff forgets the English or scientific names. Moreover, in BMS the word “monitor” is not limited to actually seeing the species. There are times that the staff only gets to hear the sound of animals, especially birds. In this situation, the wisdom of local people who can tell an animal by the sound it produces is needed.

Transect walk is similar to the field diary method except that monitoring is done along a specific stretch of the forest over many quarters to keep track of changes not just in the density of faunal species but also in the overall physical condition of the area.

Aside from training the protected area staff on the BMS, Nordeco recommended species to be prioritized in monitoring. The list includes all endemic species of flora and 43 species of fauna, 30 of which are birds.

Based on BMS reports from 2007 to the first quarter of 2011, the priority species were permanently observed or seen during this period. Moreover, some species which were said to be rare or feared to be on the brink of extinction in the park were increasingly observed in the latter part of the same period. The populations of the Philippine deer and the Philippine Warty Pig, whose numbers were initially thought to have significantly dwindled due to hunting, have been observed to have increased. The PASu staff attributed the improved status of fauna to sustained patrolling and growing awareness of the local people of the need to protect biodiversity.

The most abundant priority species include the Philippine Hanging Parakeet, Metallic Pigeon, Montane Racquet-tailed Parrot, Reddish Cuckoo Dove, White-eared Brown Dove, Zebra Dove, Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove, Mindanao Lorikeet, Tarictic Hornbill, Rofous Hornbill and Philippine Macaque (monkey). However, the Tarictic Hornbill and Rofous Hornbill were not as abundant in 2007 and 2008.

Also observed but less abundant were the Philippine Warty Pig, Red Jungle Fowl (manok ihalas), Writhed Woodpecker, Civet Cat, Philippine Deer, Red-eared Parrotfinch, Writhed Hornbill, Mindanao Gymnure, Bukidnon Woodcock, Brahminy Kite, Serpent Eagle, Philippine Grass-owl and the Philippine Eagle.

Smaller raptors like the Philippine Hawk Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Giant Scops-Owl (also known as Mindanao Eagle-owl) and Philippine Eagle-owl were rarely observed. A good sign, however, is the reemergence of bird species like the Apo Myna, Blue-naped Parrot, Amethyst Brown Dove, Pompadour Pigeon, Bleeding Heart Pigeon, and the Green Imperial Pigeon which was increasingly seen in bigger numbers since 2010.

The Flying Lemur, said to be on top of the Philippine Eagle’s diet, was consistently observed from 2008 to 2011, but not in big numbers. The Monitor lizard and Philippine tarsier were likewise rarely seen, although the latter is reportedly a timid animal. In 2010 and 2011, the BMS team spotted the Large Flying Fox, a bat species.

Despite the good signs however some old problems have remained, although on a much lesser scale. From time to time, the protected area staff would still discover cut trees and patches of forestland cleared for agriculture.