The Philippines is home to more than 20,000 endemic species of plants and animals. However a staggering 95% percent of the country's forests have already been cut down, mainly for the establishment of high value crops. BZS is working with local people to establish a value in conserving the species and the habitats they live in.
The ‘flagship species’ for our work are the bleeding heart doves (Gallicolumba keayi). There are five species of bleeding heart doves in the Philippines and out of the five, three are Critically Endangered (Negros, Sulu and Mindoro). It is estimated that there are fewer than 300 pairs of Negros bleeding heart doves left in the wild.
We also monitor the population of different species facing extinction in this area such as the rufous-headed hornbill (Rhabdotorrinus waldeni), the Visayan warty pig (Sus cebifrons), the Visayan tarictic hornbill (Penelopides panini), and the Philippine spotted deer (Rusa alfredi).
In the 1800s, the land of Negros was found to be perfect for growing sugar cane, creating a significant amount of wealth for those who started up new sugar cane plantations. Negros became known internationally as ‘sugar island’ (‘isla de dulce’). The result is that today there are less than 5% of the original forest left on Negros, with only a few patches remaining.
The current pressures on the forest come mainly from ‘kaigan’ farming, also known as ‘slash and burn’ agriculture whereby existing forest is cut down and burned off before new seeds are sown, and removal of trees for housing; both of which are causing long term loss of habitat for local wildlife. In addition, there is a culture of hunting of forest animals for food and sport. Philippine spotted deer and Visayan warty pigs are the main targets, but several other species are threatened due to opportunistic hunting; e.g., Negros bleeding heart dove, Rufous-headed hornbill and Visayan tarictic hornbill, which are caught in snare traps scattered throughout the forest to catch any animal unlucky enough to encounter them.
Many of the households in the Mantiquil Barangay area are living in poverty so we are developing an intervention around providing benefits to local people in return for forest protection, reforestation and a control on hunting. Since 2013, Bristol Zoological Society has been working with a local conservation organisation, PENAGMANNAKI. One of our crucial targets for the area has already been met; the local Municipality have declared the Mantiquil forest a ‘critical watershed and critical wildlife habitat area’ – the first of its kind on Negros. The acknowledgment that the forests are vital sources of clean water, as well as biodiversity, gives a value to local people, and one we can build on.
Strategy 1 – Systematic and long-term monitoring of the wildlife in the region
In order to ensure that our actions within the community are having a measureable effect on conserving the wildlife in the region, it is necessary to monitor the species’ populations over the long-term. We are sending Bristol Zoological Society MSc students to the region to undertake thorough studies of the fauna in the region and the habitat availability for those threatened species.
We are undertaking a number of research projects including:
Strategy 2 – Establishment of critical watershed and critical habitat for wildlife
We have been lobbying for official legal protection status for the Mantiquil forest area and for official ‘watershed status’ – to provide clean water for the immediate community – and to get the forest habitat for critically endangered species legally defined. This will enable the framework for establishing ‘management contracts’ with local people, giving employment and other benefits for rural poor people.
Strategy 3 – Habitat restoration through reforestation
Reforestation will facilitate biodiversity conservation. We aim to utilise 50 species of native trees - grown from hand-collected seeds and propagated in a regional nursery - to re-join isolated patches of forest and restore degraded habitat for the largely endemic flora and fauna population. We are also investigating Abaca farming as a potential program for habitat restoration. Abaca is a plant that produces very strong fibre (used for tea bags) and has an international demand. It is thriving in native species forest with 70% forest cover, so it is a strong basis for reforestation.
This project will provide a wide array of different resources to local communities, spanning from technical training in agroforestry, employment and, ultimately, the creation of community owned nurseries and sustainable farming.
Strategy 4 – Community-based conservation education campaigns
We are working to establish the value of biodiversity protection for communities through financial and ecosystem services. Our partner association with our support and the Local Government Units (LGUs) are leading the initiative to increase formalised biodiversity conservation and forestry protection education to number of schools in the area.
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