Groups step up effort to save critically endangered species in Western Visayas

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – A local nongovernmental organization and an international network of volunteer experts have joined forces to help save 5 endangered species in Western Visayas.  

Talarak Foundation Incorporated initiated a 4-day West Visayas Conservation Workshop at Sugarland Hotel here that kicked off on June 24 to come up with a conservation strategy and approach to help protect critically endangered endemic species in the region.

Talarak Foundation is a non-stock, non-profit organization dedicated to the captive breeding of critically endangered endemic species in Western Visayas and the protection of Negros forests.

It partnered with with IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), a science-based network of more than 8,000 volunteer experts from almost every country of the world; and the Conservation Planning Specialist Group comprised of species conservation experts.

The activity gathered around 80 individuals from the private and public sectors. 

At the end of the workshop, they created a unified conservation plan that will focus on saving 5 key species in Western Visayas, namely, Visayan warty pig (Sus veffucosus), Visayan spotted deer (Rusa alfredi), Walden’s hornbill (Rhabdotorrhinus waldeni), Tarictic hornbill (Penelopides panini), and the Negros bleeding heart pigeon (Gallicolumba keayi).

Talarak Foundation president Fernando Gutierrez said 4 of the 5 species endemic to the province are considered critically endangered – the Visayan warty pig, Negros bleeding heart pigeon, Walden’s hornbill, and Visayan spotted deer. The Tarictic hornbill is considered endangered.  

He said one of the reasons why these local species became critically endangered is that there’s “almost no habitat or the habitat is small.” (READ: Species conservation: Some success, many failures)

He pointed out that there’s less than 4% forest cover remaining in Negros Occidental, while there’s less than 8% forest cover in Panay. “In Cebu, there’s no forest at all. They’re extinct in Cebu,” he added.  

Other reasons why these species are critically endangered is because of poaching and hunting, and failure of to enforce forestry laws. 

Appeal to mayors

Gutierrez appealed to the mayors in northern Negros to help with the conservation efforts.

He said their group will meet with some of the local chief executives in July to come up with a “unified effort.” They are also planning to sit down with incoming Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson.

He pointed out gaps in the government which the private sector can help fill in to come up with a “solid plan” to address the threats. 

Kristin Leus, program officer of IUCN Species Survival Commission and population biologist of the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark, said that during the workshop, the participants and organizations were guided in figuring out on what they could do to improve and sustain the population of the endangered species. 

“Everybody has knowledge and experience, especially in the communities. It’s important to bring all the parties and make a plan for the good of the species. We will integrate the work that’s going on the field and the breeding centers, and spend time figuring out the conservation of these species,” Leus said. 

Richard Impil, a leader of indigenous peoples from Don Salvador Benedicto, said they sacrificed their lives to protect the species as the mountains in northern Negros served as their sanctuary.  

He said they need the help and support of the local government unit, the provincial government, the army, and the police to protect and conserve the remaining species in the province. –