Battling species extinction in Mt. Kitanglad Range

(First of a 3-part series)

Mountaineers go down after a trek to the inner portion of Mt. Kitanglad Range. Mindanews Photo by H. Marcos C. MordenoMALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/11 July) – In 1992-1993, American biologist Dr. Lawrence Heaney made a survey of faunal species in Mt. Kitanglad Range, a natural park in Northwestern Bukidnon. He recorded at least 16 species out of the list of endemic birds in Mindanao which can be found in the mountain range (area: 47,270 hectares).

A study conducted in 1996 by the Nordic Agency for Development and Ecology affirmed Mt. Kitanglad’s remarkable diversity and high endemism. The group recorded 168 species of birds, including 62 (37 percent) which are endemic.

Aside from birds, mammals, butterflies, amphibians and reptiles also showed high diversity based on Nordeco’s study. At least 68 species of mammals are known to exist in the park of which 27 or 43 percent are endemic. Thirteen or 57 percent of the species of reptiles and 12 or 46 percent of the 26 species of amphibians are endemic. A total of 131 species and sub-species of butterflies were recorded of which 114 or 87 percent are endemic.

But Heaney noted that 20 species of birds documented in the 1960s and 1970s were no longer sighted. Nordeco’s study, done three years after Heaney’s, found that 48 bird species and 11 mammal species that were recorded earlier were no longer seen within the park. Both Heaney and Nordeco attributed the loss and decline of these species to the destruction of their lowland forest habitat.

A floral species inside Mt. Kitanglad's virgin rainforestDwindling forests

There are six major types of habitat in Mt. Kitanglad: lowlands forest, lower montane forest, upper montane or mossy forest, grassland, wetland and cave. Of the six, lowland forests host the most number of faunal species and are thus significant to conservation. According to Nordeco, this habitat harbors 43 species of birds, 11 species of mammals and one species of butterfly that are regarded as globally threatened. These include the Lesser Eagle Owl and Black-headed Tailorbird, which are endemic to Mindanao.

Mt. Kitanglad’s lowland forests decreased in size mainly due to commercial logging operations which only stopped in the late 1980s with the imposition of a logging moratorium in the province. Slash-and-burn farming has persisted however with the entry of capitalists who provide inputs for high-value crop production, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Timber poaching and illegal occupation also remains a problem, reports from the same agency said.

Grasslands on the other hand, while considered of little importance to conservation, serve as feeding areas for the Philippine Brown Deer. Moreover, it was in this ecosystem that Dr. Robert S. Kennedy of the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History recorded, in 1995, the Bukidnon Woodcock, a species then believed to be a new discovery to science.

The Philippine Brown Deer as well as the Philippine Warty Pig, popularly called baboy ihalas or baboy sulop, are mostly found in lower montane forests. In the 1990s, however, their numbers were observed to have declined. One reason could be habitat destruction in particular the forest fires during the 1982-83 El Nino occurrence that burned some 6,000 hectares of lower montane forests.

Overhunting

In addition to habitat destruction, overhunting may have caused too the gradual disappearance of deer, wild pigs and other species. During the 1990s, venison and wild pig meat were being served in some restaurants in Bukidnon and in neighboring Cagayan de Oro City.

This observation affirmed a 1998 survey by the Kitanglad Integrated NGOs that park occupants hunted wild animals for food and additional income. The list included birds, mammals, reptiles, fowl and butterflies. Deer, wild pigs, mice and civet cats were the most widely hunted mammals. At least 50 percent of wild pigs caught were sold. Butterflies would go to Japan through a buyer in Cagayan de Oro.

Among the birds, the most widely hunted were kusi, kulasisi and brown doves. Kusi and kulasisi were sold as pets. Brown doves, ironically considered sacred by the Lumads as birds of omen, were usually meant for food, the same survey said.

Bigger households, lesser opportunities

The 1998 census in Mt. Kitanglad, conducted by the Xavier University-based Research Institute on Mindanao Cultures, put the household average size at 5.59, although a few households had between 10 and 17 members. Rimcu observed that there seemed to be a trend towards a medium-sized household owing to the growing difficulty of raising a large family.

But a 2006 socio-economic survey by KIN showed that average household size had increased to 6.27. This finding contradicts the prediction that average household size would shrink, but jibes with the observation of the 1998 census that park occupants exhibited high fertility rates based on the dominance then of ages between four and 10 years.

Compounding the big household size is the prevalence of low income. According to the 2006 survey, mean monthly income was only P2,732.

An income survey conducted in 1999, also by KIN, revealed an average monthly income of P1,205.40 or an average annual income of P14,464.80. In 2000, the average annual family income in Northern Mindanao, the region where Bukidnon belongs, was P110,333. Yet, while the average income of park occupants may have increased, its real value had actually gone down if factors like inflation were taken into account.

Lacking formal education – the average attainment is only 2.7 elementary education – at least 74 percent of the park occupants rely on farming as their main source of income, the 2006 survey said. Eighteen percent are laborers, and five percent work as salaried employees. To augment their income, close to 30 percent of them engage in gathering of rattan poles, weaving rattan and bamboo strips into baskets, and hunting.

Social services are also lacking. Health services are only available in the barangay proper. There are no potable water systems, and occupants get drinking water from the same rivers and creeks where they bathe and wash clothes. Less than 10 percent of the 47 villages around Mt. Kitanglad have elementary schools. There are no high schools except for Imbayao in Malaybalay City where the Bukidnon National High School had put up an annex campus this school year. (Next: The economics of conservation)

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