Researchers, envi group call for salvation of the ‘home of critically endangered species’

Some researchers who have joined the expeditions found threatened wildlife species that include among others Writhed Hornbill, Philippine Tarsier, Philippine Eagle, and Giant Scops Owl. (IDIS photo)
Some researchers who have joined the expeditions found threatened wildlife species that include among others Writhed Hornbill, Philippine Tarsier, Philippine Eagle, and Giant Scops Owl. (IDIS photo)

AN environmental group is lobbying for the declaration of Mt. Macabol-Alikoson Conservation Areas (MMACA) as a “critical habitat” after a team of researchers discovered that the area is home to over a hundred species of wildlife.

The MMACA in Brgy. Salaysay, Marilog District, Davao City has been recognized in 1980’s as a nesting site of the critically endangered Philippine Eagle. While its neighboring mountain ranges namely, Mt. Apo, Mt. Sinaka, and Mt. Mahuson are also declared as Philippine Eagle nesting sites in the city.

In July and August 2022, researchers from the Philippine Eagle Foundation, Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (Idis), and the University of Philippines-Mindanao and residents in Brgy. Salaysay conducted a joint exploration and survey in the area in which they successfully tracked the Philippine Eagle pair’s nesting sites as well as identified other endemic and threatened wildlife species.

Mt. Macabol has an area of 8,819 hectares and during the expedition they have found four different types of habitat in the area which are forest, riparian, community, and agricultural. According to environmental groups, a single act of deforestation will affect the entire habitat in the area, which includes the community and wildlife species.

The Philippine Eagles in MMACA

The exploration of the researchers and environmental group took them a total of 7,200 minutes or 120 hours to be able to locate the nesting sites of the two adults and juvenile Philippine eagle.

It has been known that the Philippine Eagle is a critically endangered status in both the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and DENR. In their July exploration, two adult eagles were seen active within a 500-meter radius of the nest tree at Mt. Makabol, specifically in the Panukuan area. They have also found a nesting site on the Balete tree surrounded by three hamlets (Sitios), namely Taupan, Kabigbihisan, and Tribal.

Researchers said that the pair of the Philippine eagles are permanent residents in the area as they have been seen frequently at least on six occasions.

“This is only 4.5% of the total observation hours allotted during the expedition, which means these are not dwellers but permanent residents in the area,” Idis said.

During the first expedition, their team was not successful in locating the juvenile Philippine eagle which led to another exploration in August 2022 with the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro), UP Mindanao, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (Penro) and DENR.

“Mahirap yong area where the young stay (The location of the young eagle is very hard to navigate), so I need to climb up trees to search for platforms for observation purposes, another team was also away searching for other Philippine Eagle around,” Rowell Taraya, Senior Biologist from PEF, said.

Taraya said despite the frequent rains they have encountered and long distance search and climbing method during their second expedition they have successfully tracked the six-month-old Philippine eagle in Panukuan area.

Taraya said they were able to hear the juvenile eagle at 7 a.m. on August 11, 2022 near a river in the area.

“Palipat-lipat yong call [ng eagle] so we assumed na lumilipad na ito (We assumed that the eagle is already capable of flying since the way it calls jump from one place to another), and luckily na-conclude naman namin na wala na siya sa nest (we have concluded that the eagle no longer stays in the nest),” Taraya said.

Taraya said the juvenile eagle’s prominent feature is ‘food-begging’ call.

“Dahil sa food-begging call na ito, ito yong naging paraan namin para mahanap natin yong young [eagle] (due to this food-begging call, this was our way to locate the young eagle),” Taraya said.

Taraya said the team was happy to be able to accomplish their goal on their second expedition.

Other threatened species

While the other teams are locating and tracking the Philippine eagles, some researchers who have joined the two expeditions also found threatened wildlife species in the mountain.

Some of these endangered species are Amethyst Brown Dove, Pinsker’s hawk-eagle, Giant Scops Owl, Mindanao Hornbill, Writhed Hornbill, Philippine deer, and Philippine Warty Pig, which has been called as the engineer of the forest due to the puddle that they created that serves as his bath which also serves as a water supply of other species. Also, they found a Philippine Tarsier, Mindanao Fanged Frog, and Mindanao Horned Frog.

The University of the Philippines Mindanao researchers also found terrestrial wildlife in the area. They said there are 119 terrestrial vertebrate species; 88 Birds, 16 Amphibians, six Reptiles, five Bats, and four Non-Volant Mammals.

The bats are considered to be fruit bats and residents of the area, namely, Cynopterus Brachyotis, Macroglossus minimus, Megaerops wetmorei, ​​Ptenochirus jagori, and Rousettus amplexicaudatus.

The team also noted that non-volant mammals (rodents and shrews) are Rattus Everetti, ​​Rattus Tanezumi and ​​Tupaia Everetti.

“Out of 119 terrestrial vertebrate species, the team recorded 39 species that are Philippine endemic, and 23 species are only found in Mindanao. The majority of these species are considered critically endangered and threatened,” Idis said.

Atty. Mark Peñalver, executive director of Idis, said they will turn over the result of their exploration and studies to formally propose the declaration of Mt.Makabol-Alikoson as a critical habitat to the Watershed Management Council, DENR Davao, and government authorities.

“Since researchers have found endemic, threatened, and critically endangered wildlife species in MMACA, environment groups hope that the Davao City Local Government Unit will take the lead in declaring the area as Critical Habitat following due processes of the Philippine Wildlife Act (RA9147) in coordination with the DENR Region 11,” Idis said.

A call for salvation

Before the proposal of the declaration of the MMACA to become a ‘critical habitat’, local heroes have taken a step to stop the cutting of trees in the area by the landowner.

Bantay Bukid volunteers have stopped a total devastation that could happen in the future through informing the environmental groups.

“We received a complaint with regards to cutting issues in the conservation area. We responded to such a complaint and forwarded it to the Watershed Management Council (WMC), and we found out that in 2019 or 2020, WMC already issued a resolution denying the application of the said application for cutting permit because the area is in the conservation area as declared by the Watershed Code of Davao City,” Peñalver said in a press conference on September 15, 2022.

However, Peñalver said that despite the rejection of the application for a cutting permit, the land owner still pushed the activity through since they have a permit to cut trees which resulted in another escalation of the issue to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). According to Idis, the land owner plans to convert the area into a banana plantation.

“What we did with the PEF and Idis was to lobby and declare Mt. Macabol as a critical habitat for the Philippine Eagle since we found out that there’s a presence of a Philippine Eagle in the area,” Peñalver said.

He also said that if such activity continues the watershed in the area that supplies the community will be degraded.

This situation has led to an exploration and discovery of endangered species that no one has ever thought existed in the mountain.


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