Study: Cebu’s owl endangered

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Sunday, August 19, 2012


WITH the unveiling of eight new species and one subspecies of owls that are found only in the Philippines, a nature conservationist criticized the manner of identifying priority conservation areas in the country.

William Oliver, founder and director of the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Program (PBCFI-PBCP), said the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Priority program included threatened species but it failed to consider degrees of threat.

“As a consequence, this process ended up prioritizing the currently ‘least-threatened’ versus the ‘most threatened’ ecosystems, harbouring the largest number of threatened but definitely not the ‘most’ threatened endemic species,” he said in a summary of a recently concluded study on Philippine owls.

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Oliver, who is also international coordinator of the Philippine Owls Conservation Program, cited Palawan, northeast Luzon (Sierra Madre) and eastern Mindanao, where the country’s largest remaining tracts of forest remain.

Equal priority

On the other hand, the protection of areas with high biological diversity and highly threatened ecosystems, such as Cebu, Negros and Panay islands, were not given equal priority.

The new owl species unveiled by a team of international and local experts include the Luzon hawk-owl (scientific name Ninox philippensis), Mindoro hawk-owl (Ninox mindorensis), the Romblon hawk-owl (Ninox spilonata), the Mindanao hawk-owl (Ninox spilocephala), the Sulu hawk-owl (Ninox reyi), Cebu hawk-owl (Ninox rumseyi) and Camiguin hawk-owl (Ninox leventis).

The team also found a new subspecies of the Romblon hawk-owl, named Ninox spilonata fisheri.

The Cebu hawk-owl was discovered in Alcoy town, Cebu province, said PBCF director for field operations Lisa Paguntalan.

Oliver said the newly recognized owls are threatened and some can be considered critically threatened. These include the West Visayan lowland scops-owl, which is confined in the last few remaining fragments of lowland forests on Negros and Panay islands, and the Cebu hawk-owl, , which is found in remaining patches of forests in Cebu.

Forest cover

Cebu’s native forest cover is less than one percent of, making the conservation of the Cebu hawk-owl more urgent.

“Similar concern, if likely less immediate, doubtless apply in varying degrees to the Camiguin, Romblon and Sulu hawk-owl,” said Oliver.

PBCF said ongoing reforestation in Alcoy and Dalaguete may save the Cebu hawk-owl, which needs a territory covering about 500 hectares.

Paguntalan said the owl shares the same habitat of two endemic birds of Cebu: the Cebu flowerpecker and the Cebu black shama.

Philip Godfrey Jakosalem, PBCF program officer for field operations, conducted the first ecological study of the Cebu hawk-owl.

He said that the owls prefer natural forests that remain in Argao, Dalaguete, Alcoy and Boljoon.

There were no owls found in scrap land areas where mahogany or gmelina trees, both exotic tree species, are planted so Jakosalem urged those who initiate tree-planting projects to plant only native tree species.

But PBCF was not able expand the study of the Cebu hawk-owl as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7 did not issue a permit to the group.

Nelson Devanadera of DENR said the agency will investigate why PBCF was not granted a permit to study the owl, adding that “science should direct the conservation” of the owl and its habitat.

Jakosalem said that although there are almost 200 pairs of Cebu hawk-owl, they are considered endangered.

Oliver said the Philippines is number three in the world in terms of number of threatened bird species.

“There is a very high biodiversity, very high percentage (of the species) are unique species. But there is also a very high degree of threat,” he added.

Dr. Pamela Rasmussen of the Michigan State University, head of the research team, said the sounds made by the owls allowed researchers to distinguish them as separate species.

The unveiling was supported by the Philippine Business for Social Progress.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 19, 2012.

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