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Two new species discovered, bolster case for Philippine

Posted on 7 April, 2006 - 4:59pm.

CHICAGO—Scientists have discovered two new species – a parrot and a

mouse – that live only on a small island in the Philippines. This island,
Camiguin, is the smallest Philippine island, of which there are 7,000, known
to support a bird or mammal species that is endemic (lives nowhere else).

The scientists’ research, which is embargoed, is described in the April 5

issue of Fieldiana: Zoology, a peer-reviewed, scientific journal about
biodiversity research published by The Field Museum.

These new discoveries and the biological diversity they document

strengthen the case for preserving the small area of natural rain forest still
found on the island.

“Knowing that at least 54 species of birds and at least 24 species of

mammals live on Camiguin, and that some of these animals are found
nowhere else on earth, makes us realize how important this island is in
terms of conservation,” said Lawrence Heaney, Curator of Mammals, at The
Field Museum and a co-author of several of the reports in this publication.
“For these animals to survive, we’ve got to save the dwindling forests
where they live.”
Raffesia mira: yet another reason to be proud of the
Posted on 5 April, 2006 - 12:17pm.

Rafflesia manillana ( Photo: Benito Tan, Vanishing Treasures of the Philippine Rain Forest by L. Heaney and J. C.
Regalado, Jr.)

By Art Fuentes

A biologist once said that for every species named, there’s still another four
or five waiting to be discovered.

Some people may see this remark as an article of faith rather than a
statement of fact. But sometimes keeping faith has its rewards.

Another species of the rare giant flower Rafflesia was discovered here in the
Philippines. Filipino scientists led by Dr. Edwino Fernando and Dr. Perry Ong
trooped to a remote mountain in the town of Maragusan, Campostela Valley
Province in Mindanao. They came to verify a story that was until then mere
rumor—another species of the strange bloom was growing there.
Flowers Color Our World
Posted on 30 March, 2006 - 11:45pm.
By the Philippine Orchids Society

Simple things, like the smell and color of a flower, can bring real joy in life.
Cluster of orchids in full bloom for example, will definitely perk up our day
and add color to our world.

As the Philippine Orchid Society celebrates its 60th anniversary, it

showcases some of the most colorful and stunningly beautiful Philippine
orchid species. Orchids along with other flowering plants in the country are
truly magnificent, yet in dire need of immediate protection. Over collection
and forest destruction threaten their existence in the wild. Conservation will
be difficult to pursue if there is no appreciation of our floral species like
these featured flowers, which are indeed worthy of wold-class recognition.

Phalaenopsis lueddemanniana
(Photo by Art Serbio)

Phalaenopsis lueddemanniana is an endemic species named after

Leuddemann, a French orchidist in the late 1800s. The plant is variable,
being widespread along the eastern side of the country, from Luzon down to
Mindanao. The flower is fragrant, reaching up to 4 cm in diameter and has a
base color of white or ivory with magenta bars. It blooms from February
and all throughout the summer months. The mature plant has a habit of
forming keikis (or baby plants). The plant likes a humid environment with
plenty of water and low light level.
Philippine Biodiversity: A World's Showcase
Posted on 28 March, 2006 - 6:48pm.
By Pilar Saldajeno, Heidi Doctolero and Mary Ann Leones

(First of Two Parts)

The Philippines has amazing biodiversity.

As compared with other countries, she has more endemic species in groups
like plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, and butterflies. Certainly, we can call
her a ‘Paraisong Pinaka’ or a paradise of some of the best and the rarest
plant and animal species in the world.

Our rainforests are home to 102 species of amphibians (82 of which are
endemic or found only in the Philippines), 254 species of reptiles (208 are
endemic), 179 mammals (111 endemics), 20,940 species of insects (14,616
are endemic), 578 species of birds (196 are endemic), 15,000 kinds of
plants (7,500 are endemic).

Even our seas and oceans are teeming with life. In fact, marine scientists
consider the Philippines as the center of the center in marine biodiversity.
Its coral reefs, which spans 300,000 km2 holds diverse species of fish and
many organisms, which are greater than those in the Eastern Papua New
Guinea, the Ryukyu and Yaeyama Islands, and the Great Barrier Reef in
A million hectares of revived forests by 2020
Posted on 12 December, 2005 - 8:50pm.

Haribon Foundation, together with other environmental organizations, has

just launched a campaign to reforest one million hectares of denuded areas
by year 2020.

Dubbed as ROAD to 2020, the initiative follows Haribon's success in

gathering one million signatures calling for a ban on commercial logging
and mining in all natural forests.

The new campaign takes Haribon's goal of forest protection one step
forward. Besides preserving our remaining forests, we are now actually
aiming to expand them, to bring back thriving life where only barren hills
and mountains now stand. The campaign is made even more urgent by the
government's push to revitalize the mining industry and allow logging even
in areas already designated as National Parks. [TEASER BREAK]

Under the umbrella of the Rainforest Restoration Initiative (RFRI), Haribon

together with people from the church, academe, business and non-
governmental organizations, the movement aims to plant indigenous tree
species in areas where forests once stood.
Ecotourism: is this deal for real?
Posted on 12 November, 2005 - 12:07pm.

Can we strike a balance between tourism and conservation?

Nice dreams and rude awakenings

A guide from the local community is showing you the way along a route
that leads to a number of caves. You suck in the fresh air, and gaze in
amazement at the gigantic trees around you.

The guide tells you that the caves are a habitat for bats, and that the locals
collect the “guano” that comes from the bats to use as organic fertilizer. He
continues to explain that historically, the caves once served as a base for

After a while, you find yourself swimming in the clear river while your
companions opt to take a boat ride. You leave the area, exhausted yet also
refreshed, with a bayong full of local-made jam and organic vegetables in
hand as pasalubong.

But then as you are leaving this beautiful place, the bus you are riding gets
stuck in a traffic jam consisting of hundreds of SUVs carrying thousands of
people eager to have the exact same thrills you had! You shudder with
anxiety thinking about how that picturesque quaint village up in the
mountains could possibly handle that influx of people.
Flying Foxes of the Philippines
Posted on 26 October, 2005 - 1:01pm.

A Flying Fox?
The Philippines indeed, has flying foxes, but they are not actually foxes that
have wings. Flying foxes are actually bats that look more like miniature
dogs with wings.

They belong to the order Chiroptera and the family Pteropodidae. There are
nine known species of flying foxes in the Philippines, and one that is
believed to be already extinct.

The smallest flying fox

Very little is yet known about this particular flying fox, but it can be
presumed that its population is very small, and that the species is probably
highly endangered. [TEASER BREAK]

It is small and slim with sharp and sleek facial features, has mottled wings
and is covered by brown downy fur. Mature males tend to have darker fur
and wings than the sub-adults and juveniles, which have light-medium
grayish brown and finer fur.
Plant native trees today
Posted on 21 October, 2005 - 7:08am.

by Dr. Angel C. Alcala

There is no doubt that the country needs to plant trees—and more trees—in
barren and denuded areas. The question is what species of forest trees
should we plant in reforestation areas.
Since the country's reforestation program began in the 1990s, the decision
of government has been to encourage the planting of exotic species for the
main reason that they are fast-growing species. While the growth rate
characteristic is important, there are other equally important considerations
for the choice of these species.

Characteristics such as adaptability to the environment, amount of organic

matter produced, ability to hold the soil, water-holding capacity, provision
of microhabitats for native or endemic animal species, amount of canopy
cover, etc. are equally important.

In order to appreciate these characteristics that I would call desirable, one

needs only to observe the remnants of our lowland dipterocarp forest, the
type of climax vegetation ideal for the preservation of our forest
environment, together with the associated biodiversity that all of us should
Chasing the wrong bird
Posted on 20 October, 2005 - 2:13am.

There is no evidence that the human victims of avian flu acquired the disease from wild birds.

by Anabelle L. Plantilla

Recent news of the avian flu has swept the Asian region as reports have
been received from Vietnam, Thailand and now Indonesia.

This is the time of the year that migratory birds start flocking to our
country, and wrong information may actually send wrong signals to
everyone about the avian flu and migratory birds. This article will feature
excerpts from an article written by my colleague Blas Tabaranza, a wildlife
biologist, about the avian flu, which appeared in this year’s third quarter
issue of Haring Ibon, Haribon’s magazine.

Blas’s article leads with the bird-flu scare earlier this year in July when
several ducks in a poultry farm in Bulacan were found to be infected with
bird flu. Though it has since been proven that the detected strain of bird flu
was not the dreaded H5N1, the scare reminds us that we, too, are at risk
and it might be a good idea to take precautionary measures against the
possibility of an epidemic. However, it is necessary to take the proper
precautionary measures—leave the wild birds alone in their natural habitat.
In the UK and raving about birds
Posted on 6 October, 2005 - 5:01am.

by Anya Santos

It is not everyday that one gets together with people you hold in the
highest esteem. Such a gathering is made all the more special when it’s set
in a country other than your own!

(Let’s be honest—the Philippines is definitely one of the most beautiful

countries in the world, but who ever heard of anyone pass a chance to go

The last 2 weeks of August saw the Haribon Membership Team go through a
whirlwind of excitement. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
(RSPB)—the UK partner of Birdlife International—invited us to a Summer
Marketing Workshop from August 15-18, as well as a Bird Fair from August
19-22. We were going to Britain with other BirdLife partners from all over
the world.
Another endangered avian
Posted on 26 September, 2005 - 3:10am.

The Mindoro Tarictic Hornbill, another endangered wildlife from the island of the Tamaraws.

Tarictics are hornbills, large mystifying birds with distinctly shaped bills
belonging to the family Bucerotidae.

There are four similar kinds of hornbills in the Philippines belonging to the
genus Penelopides, but these species do not look exactly alike and live
geographically apart.

Where does the Mindoro Tarictic live?

About a hundred years ago, the Mindoro Tarictic was abundantly found in
lowland areas, and even during the 1970’s they have been reportedly seen
in flocks of up to 50 individuals.

These numbers have been rapidly declining, and reports say it is now rare
to see them in flocks of seven.

What makes survival difficult for these birds? First of all, the forest, their
home, is shrinking. Everyday it gets smaller and smaller due to logging and
land conversion for agriculture. Secondly, they are hunted for food. Because
of their size and visibility, they are easy shooting targets. Now, the Mindoro
Tarictic is sighted in a few lowland primary forests, forest edges, or
secondary growth forests.
The Mindoro Bleeding Heart
Posted on 19 September, 2005 - 1:47am.

The Tamaraw isn't the only endangered wildlife in Mindoro.

A Bleeding-heart is a pigeon, so called because of a distinct red or orange

marking on its breast that looks like it is bleeding. It may be Mother
Nature’s sense of humor that stained these birds with target shooting
marks, but these awesome patches make them special from all other
colorful birds. The distinct patch slightly varies in shape and color among
species of Bleeding-hearts.

For the Mindoro Bleeding-heart, it is orange and relatively elongated.

Unlike many birds, the males and females of this species look the same.

Found only in Mindoro, a 9,826-square kilometer island southwest of

mainland Luzon, the Mindoro Bleeding-heart is known as Kulo-kulo to the
Mangyans, the indigenous peoples living in Mindoro’s forests. The bird also
goes by the local names La-do, Manatad, Manuk-manuk, Punay, and
Puñalada. Although similar in habits to its cousin the Common Emerald-
dove (Chalcophaps indica), its calls and appearance are different.
Ang Paraisong Pinaka... a showcase of superlatives
Posted on 29 August, 2005 - 4:31am.

by Art Fuentes and Katrice Jalbuena

The gathering in August was undoubtedly the most well-attended Haribon

Forum ever held.

The venue was packed—the seating capacity of the Meralco Mini-Theater

was 160, but almost 190 people attended the forum dubbed: “Ang
Paraisong Pinaka…”

While Haribon expected August's forum to register better attendance than

previous forums, the enthusiasm for the topic of the month went well
beyond our expectations. The fervor of the attendees as well as the invited
speakers themselves was truly heartwarming. We could only conclude that
it was because of the timeliness of the theme itself.

At a period when Filipinos the world over are reeling in shame over the
seemingly incurable backwardness of our political culture and our economy,
the forum sought to remind Pinoys that there remains much in our country
to be proud about.
Art Exhibit on Animal Freedom
Posted on 23 August, 2005 - 5:28pm.

How do wild animals feel about being pets? What do birds think about
deforestation? What do crocodiles have to say about the disappearing
forests and wetlands?

Haribon Foundation, a membership organization dedicated to nature

conservation with the people--for the people, together with Ang Ilustrador
ng Kabataan (Ang I.n.K.), the country's first and only organization of
illustrators for children, will try to answer these questions—from the
animals' point of view.

Aptly titled "Animalaya", the Ang I.n.K.-Haribon exhibit presents the plight
of the country's endemic and endangered animals and the message they
have been longing to tell humans. A touring exhibit, it will be on view at the
Riverbanks Center Mall, Marikina City from August 23 to 28, 2005 at the
Manila International Book Fair, World Trade Center from August 31 to
September 4, 2005 and selected schools nationwide.
Living in the past, facing a certainly bleak future
Posted on 4 August, 2005 - 4:03am.

Logging provides a momentary source of livelihood. But it's bound to end. But when it does, it doesn't mean the end of
the world.

by Ben Cyrus G. Ellorin

NASIPIT, Agusan del Norte -- Right behind the house where I am writing
this piece is the NALCO building that collapsed in March last year after
hungry steel scavengers wrongly hammered to pieces the building
foundation in search for scrap metal that sells here for at least P10 a kilo.

That incident claimed the lives of three poor people and injured scores

Today what remains of what was once one of biggest timber companies in
the country is a pile of rubble. If you take a tight shot of the Nasipit Lumber
Company compound, you would mistake it for Afghanistan or Fallujah or
any God-forsaken place on Earth.

But here in Caraga, logs, lumber, timber is King, or so a lot of people think.
Searching for eagles in the Sierra Madre - second part
Posted on 27 July, 2005 - 2:58am.

by Edmund Leo Rico

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But fascination and excitement got the
better of me.

So when they told me that Haribon had a project to study and conserve
Philippine eagles in the Sierra Madre—to search for the world’s largest eagle
in the country’s largest forest, I had no second thoughts: I wanted to be
part of it.

Though it wasn’t going to be my first time in the Sierra Madre, the mere
thought of once more trekking through one of the most biologically diverse
areas on Earth still got my blood pumping. For a wildlife biologist, few
things can come close to this sense of fascination. For us, each visit to the
Sierra Madre is a unique learning experience—allowing you to take in new
and unique knowledge about the forest’s priceless flora and fauna.
Aurora, Quezon, and Nueva Ecija... disasters forgotten
Posted on 8 July, 2005 - 4:50am.

Aurora, Quezon, Nueva Ecija: Dreading the onset of the rains?

by Rina Bernabe

Last year, one of the worst natural disasters in living memory struck the
provinces of Aurora, Quezon and Nueva Ecija. Uncommonly heavy rains
loosened land in the Sierra Madre that was rendered barren by decades of
logging. Flashfloods and landslides later came rushing down the towns of
Dingalan, Gabaldon, General Nakar, Infanta and Real destroying millions of
pesos of property and killing more than a thousand people.

For a time, the disaster was big news, prompting government officials to
make pronouncements and promises aimed at convincing Filipinos that they
will do all they can to prevent such disasters from ever happening again.

Half a year later, the tragedy is rarely mentioned and hardly anybody
questions whether the roots of the disaster have been properly addressed.
To the affected communities of Quezon and Aurora, however, the tragedy
remains all too painfully fresh. They are still living with its aftermath.
Searching for eagles in the Sierra Madre
Posted on 24 June, 2005 - 5:04pm.

by Jose Don de Alban

Upon setting foot on the mountains of Sierra Madre in General Nakar, I felt
excited and worried at the same time. I was thrilled over the fact that I was
finally traversing the great forests of the Sierra Madre (if not the
Philippines), and I had a fat chance of seeing the world’s largest bird in the
wild. But I was also worried because my mind was entertaining the
possibility of a repeat performance of landslides and flashfloods that
occurred in the same area just a few months back.
I have seen the Philippine Eagle at the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao, but
I have yet to see it in the wild. I think nothing can compare to feeling that
natural high when I see it majestically soaring over the forests instead of
being locked inside a cage. Searching for it in the Sierra Madre is a rare and
awesome experience, but it is also tiring because of the vast and difficult
terrain and sometimes disheartening especially when you find out that the
eagles are accidentally killed due to logging and hunting activities by the
Searching for new species in Zambales
Posted on 20 June, 2005 - 3:23am.

Ask a Filipino about Zambales and there’s a high chance he will readily,
even longingly, mention mangoes, reputed to be the sweetest in the

Indeed, Zambales remains synonymous with mangoes—oh, those plump,

luscious, golden mangoes—despite the spreading fame of Guimaras for the
same. But to those of us interested in Philippine mammals, the mention of
Zambales conjures a huge question mark. What sorts of animals thrive on
its mountains?

How are they related to the mammals of the Cordilleras or of the rest of

For a long time, Zambales remained a large gap in our knowledge of the
distribution and conservation of Philippine mammals. Shortly after Mt.
Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991, a team from the National Museum of the
Philippines and the Cincinnati Museum conducted a brief wildlife survey on
the highest peak of the Zambales mountain range, Mt. High Peak.
Balbalasang - the green heart of the Cordillera
Posted on 31 May, 2005 - 5:23pm.

by Art Fuentes

At a dinner hosted by Haribon for Dr. Lawrence Heaney last year, the
eminent scientist referred to Balbalasang as one of the most beautiful
places he’s ever been to. I looked at the pictures that he and his team took
of the area during a recent biological survey, and though Balbalasang did
indeed look special, I didn’t really see it as glowing in any special aura.

But that view soon changed after I myself got a chance to visit the village a
few months later. The first rains that signal the end of the dry season
(summer) transform this already remarkable village in the mid of the
Cordillera into something one colleague refers to as “almost magical.”
Snorkeling in Anilao
Posted on 24 May, 2005 - 3:52pm.

Anilao, Batangas: The conditions were perfect

By Anya Santos

Boarding the bus was a mix of people, most of whom had never met. It was
a combination of members, both old and new, as well as some volunteers
and staff. We got to the Aquaventure resort a little later than expected with
a few unforeseen circumstances --- some latecomers, traffic and a crucial
wrong turn. But as soon as we stepped off the bus, all 24 of us gasped in
awe of the pretty scene ahead of us.

The sky was clear and azure blue with not a cloud in sight. The sea was
calm and inviting. The Haribon Snorkeling Adventure was just about to

Marine biologists Chona Cunanan and Djop Tabaranza were on hand to

share their expertise. After an informative orientation on the snorkeling
gear as well as the marine life we could expect to see, the group, with ages
ranging from 10 to 50 years old, headed out to shore to test the waters.
Lanuza: a surfing paradise in peril
Posted on 21 May, 2005 - 3:18am.

Watch out Siargao! Lanuza's waves are sweeping in.

By Chona May Cunanan and Art Fuentes

Mention surfing and names like Siargao, Aurora, Daet, and La Union easily
come to mind. However, there is another great surf spot in the country that
is still relatively undiscovered.

The Pacific Ocean sends swells to Lanuza that can very well give Siargao’s
world-renowned Cloud Nine a run for its money. Reputedly the second
longest rolling waves in the world, they can have surfers riding distances up
to 100 meters.

Lanuza Bay is situated at the northernmost section of Surigao del Sur

covering a 120-kilometer coastline. It extends from Carrascal in the north
and encompasses the municipalities of Cantillan, Madrid, Carmen, Lanuza
and Cortes and Tandag.
Shooting birds with one liquidstone
Posted on 8 May, 2005 - 6:33am.

An interview with the Philippines' top bird photographer

One of the many remarkable photos courtesy of Romy Ocon

by Art Fuentes

Most photographers would readily agree that there’s no subject quite as

difficult as wild birds. Ask any shutterbug about his favorite landscape,
portrait or still life shot and he/she will readily show you the pictures. But
ask them if they have interesting photos of birds in the wild, and they will
most probably clam up.

Not Romy Ocon. In fact he has made birds the primary subject of his
photographs. Among local photographers, he is perhaps the only one to do

There are several reasons why birds, or most wildlife for that matter, aren’t
very popular as subjects for photographers. Birds move very fast, and they
rarely let anyone get close enough to get a decent picture. Finding ever
more colorful birds is also a challenge in itself. Looking for birds in the
suburbs may satisfy you for a time. But before you know it, you’re already
itching to take hike in the mountains, or sail to some far away island to
shoot birds in the wild. Candaba? Balbalasang? Olango? And then there’s
the matter of equipment—are you dedicated enough to your subject to
really invest in the gear required to get good results?

How to bring back Philippine forests

Posted on 3 May, 2005 - 6:59am.

To truly reverse the tide of deforestation, we need to plant native trees.

By Ruth Condeno

Over the last century, the forest area in the Philippines has fallen from 21
million hectares in 1900 to less then 6 million in 1996 (DENR 2002). The
decline in old-growth forest from 70 percent to 18% (ESSC 1999) in less
than a century is probably the most rapid and severe in the world.

The timber trade also suffered from this overexploitation. Our country,
which was once the number one exporter of first class hardwood timber,
now relies on imports to supply our own domestic needs (FAO 1997). The
situation became so serious that the government was forced to impose total
log ban or ban timber license agreements in some regions of the country.

Efforts at reforestation and/or tree plantation have not been sustained and
taken seriously enough to become viable alternatives to logging. The high
dependency on wood extraction from natural forest contributes greatly to
the continued forest degradation.
Diving for Mantas
Posted on 18 April, 2005 - 7:15am.

By Jay Ortiz

I first learned about manta rays from fish books. This odd looking fish
should be a sight to see--this was my thought when I became a scuba diver
in 1996. They were said to be spotted in Camiguin Island's waters but I was
not able to come across one during my first few scuba dives there.

First Sighting - 1997

One early evening in February 1997, Howard, Carlo and other divers were
just hanging out in a friend's family resort in Batangas before dinner when
we heard a commotion. The men in the village rushed to help a fellow
fisherman pull to shore a drift net.

When the fishermen reached the shore, we saw the manta ray dead on the
banks. It was caught on a drift net of Mr. De Castro, a local fishermen. We
asked him why he brought it to shore and killed it. He told us he planned to
just save his driftnet and let the animal go but it expired before they got it
to shore. It was my first sight of the elusive ray. Since we could no longer
save the poor manta ray, we decided to document it. It measured a few
inches more than my arm span so it was about six feet.
Tunnel vision: sacrificing the future for short term gains
Posted on 11 April, 2005 - 6:26am.

The sign and the scenery. A mining firm proclaims its love for the environment.

By Dr. Angel Alcala

The recent government announcements to open mineral lands to foreign

capitalists and to encourage exploitation of fishery resources by setting a
higher capture fisheries production have caused fears that environmental
damage will increase in 2005. People and organizations concerned with
sustainable development point to the not-so-good past records of
environmental protection as a basis for this fear.

They single out the environmental damage and loss of human lives and
property in northern Luzon in December of 2004, which was largely
attributed to the continuous removal of large trees, the backbone of forest

Looking back at the fight for Palawan

Posted on 4 April, 2005 - 6:20am.

Dubbed by some as the country's last frontier, Palawan is known for its pristine reefs and lush forests.

By Belinda dela Paz

Cristi Nozawa and
Anabelle Plantilla

This story began sometime in 1987. Palawan is the second largest province
in the Philippines with an area of 11,785 square kilometers and an
estimated population of 528, 287. Its natural resources include cultivable
lowlands, old growth forests, and rich coastal waters.

Some of the most productive fishing grounds are found in the seas
surrounding this island province. In fact, it supplies 50 percent of Metro
Manila's fish requirements. Palawan has incredible potential for tourism
because of its natural beauty.
Two of the eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites identified in the Philippines
are found here. These are the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park and the
St. Paul Subterranean River National Park. Palawan has been identified as
an Endemic Bird Area (ERA) and christened the last frontier of lowland
tropical forests in the Philippines.

A brief introduction to the joys of birdwatching

Posted on 28 March, 2005 - 5:46am.

Summer has arrived. As many of us prepare to hit the beach or go to higher elevations to escape the heat, we at
Haribon suggest that you also try another hobby

By Tim Fisher

Birdwatching is an all consuming hobby that is very popular in the United

Kingdom, parts of Europe, and North America. In recent years, its
popularity has been increasing in parts of Asia particularly in Japan where
the Wild Bird Society enjoys a large membership base. In Hong Kong,
Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, it is also growing in popularity. The
Bangkok Bird Club, or the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand as it is now
known, has a thousand active Thai bird watchers.

Although some people might say that this is a frivolous activity for Haribon
to be involved in and that we should devote our time to the more serious
matters of conservation and education, I wholeheartedly disagree.
The more chances that members of Haribon get to study nature in the wild,
the keener they will be in wanting to ensure that the Philippines' remaining
natural habitats are conserved for future generations. If you have enjoyed
many fascinating days birdwatching in the forests of Mt Makiling and had a
chance to see many of the species of endemic Philippine birds there,you
would-be much more ready to fight against any threat to the area.

We do not support the lifting of the log ban

Posted on 14 March, 2005 - 5:13am.

A truck laden with logs felled from the forests of Lanuza, Surigao del Norte.

Allow us to be perfectly clear on this.

Last March 8, the Manila Standard reported that DENR Secretary Michael T.
Defensor said the Haribon Foundation, along with two other environmental
organizations, was supporting the possibility of lifting the log ban in

Haribon has never supported such a proposal. Our call remains unchanged:
We want a ban on logging and mining in all natural forests.

We have always been consistent with this call given the sad state of our
natural forests, the rapid loss of biological diversity, and the unstable
condition of our water basins. However, it seems that the DENR plans to
further aggravate forest destruction with the lifting of the log ban in Region
11, CARAGA, and possibly the Cordillera Region.

Mining: A boon to some, a bane to the rest of us

Posted on 14 March, 2005 - 5:10am.

Mining: a boon to foreign investors and a cash-strapped government, a bane to the environment and the rest of us.
Expect more carved mountains and wastelands.

Since the enactment of the Mining Act of 1995, government has been
pushing for the development of the mining industry. Under the
administration of Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the past several years
have seen redoubled efforts in promoting the industry.
Getting the ball rolling with a declaration of a policy shift from tolerance to
promotion of mining, the government set about building a favorable policy
and investment climate for mining projects.

In January 2004, Executive Order 270 on revitalizing the mining industry

was issued, followed by its accompanying Mineral Action Plan. The two
documents spell out the government’s thrusts and plans in revitalizing the
mining industry.

Mining is being touted as the way out of the economic quagmire that the
country is currently in. $840 billion – said to be the estimated worth of the
country’s mineral wealth - is only one of the remarkable figures being

Having cleared a long-standing obstacle when it won a constitutional

challenge to the Mining Act in January 2005, government is throwing open
the doors to much-anticipated foreign mining investments.

The "sea" snake of Taal Lake

Posted on 7 March, 2005 - 5:12am.

There's more to Taal Lake than just the spectacular breathtaking view

by Arvin C. Diesmos

The "sea" snake of Taal Lake

Posted on 7 March, 2005 - 5:12am.
There's more to Taal Lake than just the spectacular breathtaking view

by Arvin C. Diesmos

We are standing on the windswept shores of Barangay Buso-buso in the

town of Laurel in Batangas Province one lazy afternoon in February.
Looming less than two kilometers from us is Volcano Island, better known
as Taal Volcano. Although rising just a little over 1,000 feet from the waters
of Lake Taal, it commands a forceful presence.

And it is not difficult to see why. Taal Volcano has inspired myths, legends,
mystical and romantic tales, and—in the past 400 years of our written
history—pure terror. Taal Volcano is, in fact, internationally recognized as
among the most dangerous seismic localities in the world.

This breathtaking scenery is a welcome perk in our journey. Our main

purpose here is to document the Lake Taal Sea Snake, a little-known
species that lives in the waters of Lake Taal.

We won't, however, be diving in the lake to search for this snake—although

we honestly wish we could. Instead, we hope to gather a variety of
information about the snake through interviews with the local fisher folk of
this community, keeping in mind that the Taaleños themselves are more
knowledgeable about the workings of Lake Taal compared to us outsiders.
But, who knows, perhaps if we get lucky enough, we could even catch a
glimpse of this enigmatic snake. [TEASER BREAK]

Lake Taal
Lake Taal is one of the major freshwater lakes in the country. It places
second to nearby Laguna de Bay for being the largest freshwater lake on
the island of Luzon covering an area of about 26,000 hectares.
Taal Lake's environment rests in the hands of the communities around it.

Located in Batangas and right at the border of Cavite Province, Lake Taal
lies less than 18 kilometers southwest of Laguna de Bay and around nine
kilometers northeast of Balayan Bay off the coast of Batangas. Its waters
flow into the sea through the Pansipit River, which is located at its
southwest rim.

To ancient Taaleños, it is known as Lake Bombon. To volcanologists, it is a

large caldera, the remains of a towering volcanic mountain that stood
perhaps 6,000 meters tall until a series of turbulent volcanic eruptions
nearly leveled the entire mountain.

To limnologists, it is an oligotrophic lake with a pH value ranging from 7.0

to 9.4 (this means its waters range from being neutral to being alkaline)
and a bottom composed of loam and sand. And to most Filipinos, it is one of
the most popular and picturesque tourist spots in the country.

Lake Taal has not always looked the way it does now. Volcanologists,
geologists, and archaeologists claim that it was once part of the Batangas
seas until cataclysmic volcanic forces 400 years ago shaped what we now
recognize as Lake Taal. Like an umbilical cord to its mother, the narrow
Pansipit River serves as Lake Taal's link to its past.

Lake Taal Sea Snake

The Lake Taal Sea Snake was described by Samuel Garman in 1881 and
bears the name of its discoverer, Carl Semper, a noted naturalist who first
collected the snake from the lake. To herpetologists, it is a hydrophine
snake and bears the scientific name Hydrophis semperi. To Taaleños, it is
most familiar as duhol.

Its color varies from black to deep blue with numerous white or (yellowish
bands that encircle the body beginning from the neck) down to the base of
the tail. The head and tail are usually colored black. Like all sea snakes, its
tail is flat and paddle-shaped, an adaptation especially suited to living in a
watery world.
The "sea snake" of Taal Lake

The Lake Taal Sea Snake is among the smallest species of sea snakes
known. The total lengths of available samples of adult Hydrophis semperi
range from 500 to a little over 750 millimeters.

By comparison, most other species reach lengths of well over 1,000


The Lake Taal Sea Snake is venomous as all sea snakes are. It belongs to
the family Elapidae, which is comprised of cobras, kraits, coral snakes, and
sea snakes. In fact, the venom of a sea snake is known to pack a deadlier
punch than their earth-bound cousins: sea snake venom is known to be two
to five times more lethal than cobras. A scary thought indeed, hut the good
news is sea snakes are generally non-aggressive and do not readily attack.
They also have tiny fangs and their gape is rather small. Unprovoked
attacks on humans are unheard of.

Crucible of Evolution
One may ask then: "So, what's so special about this snake?" You see, in
spite of being referred to as a "sea snake," Hydrophis semperi is a
freshwater species and is the only known freshwater sea snake in the
Philippines. More so, all available information indicates that Hydrophis
semperi is found only in the waters of Lake Taal.

Scientists hypothesize that the volcanic forces that shaped Lake Taal played
a major role in shaping the creatures that now inhabit the lake, resulting in
the evolution of odd creatures unique to Lake Taal.

It is believed that a small population of the ancestor of Hydrophis semperi

(which some herpetologists think may be the Blue-banded Sea Snake
Hydrophis cyanocinctus) became landlocked and closed off from the ocean
during heightened volcanic activities in the area. Through a process which
evolutionary biologists call "Founder Principle," the trapped, isolated, and
small population of the ancestral species (the "founder") eventually
underwent an evolutionary change, evolving into a new species which is
ecologically adapted to a new freshwater environment. And thus, Hydrophis
semperi was born.
This scenario very probably set the stage for the evolution of other animals
that are unique to Lake Taal (there is yet no final checklist of the strange
creatures that lurk under its waters). For instance, another popular (and
quite tasty) oddity is the Freshwater Sardinella Sardinella tawilis, the only
freshwater sardine known in the world. And yes, found only in Lake Taal.

Recent studies have identified several factors that pose a serious threat to
Lake Taal, the sea snake, and its many other inhabitants. Chemical
pollution is a major threat. Toxic chemicals such as insecticides, pesticides,
fertilizers, petrol wastes, and untreated sewage from the ever growing
human population enter the lake every second of the day. The sources of
these pollutants are commercial establishments, agricultural plantations,
factories, processing zones, and resorts.

The burgeoning fish cages are a constant source of nutrients that can tip
the balance of this ecosystem. In fact, there have been numerous
documented fish kills in Lake Taal due to an overloading of nutrients
(mostly coming from unutilized tilapia feeds), which lead to the uncontrolled
proliferation of other organisms, especially microorganisms and benthos.

This plus the overcrowded fishes in the cages deplete oxygen present in the
water (known as "dissolved oxygen"), the end result is a regular period
offish kills.

Fishkills due to pollution and unsustainable use of the lake

In recent years, fishery authorities and the fishermen themselves have

noticed a decline in harvest of several species of fish (especially those not
cultured in cages). Over-harvesting is being blamed for the decline and
scientists fear that the populations of some species (including the tawilis)
may be plummeting.

You probably are not aware of it but the tilapia (such as the Blue Tilapia
Oreochromis niloticus) is a big threat to the native fauna of Lake Taal. This
much celebrated exotic species was introduced into the country from its
native Africa. It is now practically found in almost all major rivers and lakes
in the country. Scientific evidence have shown that the voracious and
ecologically aggressive tilapia has caused the extinction of native species of
fish in areas where it has been introduced. For example, the tilapia is being
blamed for the demise of a number of endemic cyprinids in Lake Lanao,

An overlooked yet serious threat to the sea snake is human persecution.

Like most snakes in the Philippines, H. . semperi is routinely killed. In fact,
they are killed simply because they are snakes. Based on our studies, a
fisherman on his usual routine will typically come across H. semperi in any
given workday of the week. This encounter normally proves fatal on the

part of the snake: the snake gets killed. Thus, if one fisherman kills one
snake per week and we multiply that to roughly 20% of the more than
10,000 fishermen making a living in the Lake (this is our estimated
percentage of the number of persons who admitted that they have killed H.
semperi), then account for the total number of weeks in a given year, only
then will we begin to realize the magnitude of this impact. One can only
hope that man and snake can live a peacefully in each other's presence.

The Future
The Lake Taal Sea Snake faces numerous threats, real and potential. Yet
with the amount of information that is available about u this species, we
can only guess what its future will be like.

A great deal needs to be known about its natural history and ecology. It is
an irony that such a unique and striking creature could be so poorly known.
Among the most pressing questions that need a immediate answers are the

• How long does it live?

• When and where does it breed?
• How many young does a female produce?
• What is the maturity age?
• What is the survival rate?
• What is its preferred habitat?
• What does it eat?
• What is its home range?
• Do populations exist outside of Lake Taal?
• How many are left?
The communities around the lake must work to preserve it

Studies on these topics could provide valuable information in order to

assess its present conservation status with great confidence. Furthermore,
the information can be used to identify appropriate conservation and
management interventions that might be needed for the species and for
Lake Taal in general. Using the snake and tawilis as flagship species,
conservation measures will benefit the whole of Lake Taal ecosystem.

The government in partnership with civil society groups had already taken
initial action to manage Lake Taal; this is a very important step to
safeguard this unique, fragile, and very vital ecosystem in the southern
Tagalog region of Luzon. But there has to be more. More than ever, there is
a great need for a sustained research, management, and conservation
program for Lake Taal. For this will benefit its many dependents: people,
animals, and plants.

Our country is facing very tough problems: unrelenting poverty, political

upheaval, social unrest—just to name a few. Yet scientists and naturalists
observe that we, as a nation, seem to be overlooking an equally important
challenge that we have to confront right now: a full-scale ecological

All these things we pondered as we strode on the shores of Lake Taal.

Under a mid-day sun, some groups of men, women, and children are fishing
from the shores. We approached them, curious to investigate the day's
harvest. A wispy old man in his late '70s handed us a rusty tin plate with a
dozen sweet-smelling tawilis, grilled fresh from an open fire. We gladly

We hope to come here again and study this snake more actively. When we
return, we hope to learn more details about its life. We also wish to
discover more of the charms, secrets, and other strange animals of Lake
Taal. And perhaps when we come back, we can even learn to dive.
This work was funded by the conservation and environmental grants of the
Ford Motor Company Philippines through the Project HerpWatch Luzon 2000
awarded to Arvin C. Diesmos.

Arum C. Diesmos is an ecologist and Researcher at the Herpetology

Section, National Museum of the Philippines and the current president of the
Wildlife Conservation Society of the Philippines, Inc. He is presently based
at the National University of Singapore.

Marefe C. Lagda and Norydel F. Tresnado are biology graduates of De

La Salle University-Dasmariñas and are presently undertaking field research
and a conservation awareness program on Hydrophis semperi and the Lake
Taal ecosystem.

Rafe M. Brown is an evolutionary biologist and Ph.D. candidate at the

University of Texas, Austin, USA. He has been collaborating with Filipino
herpetologists for the past 10 years on field studies of Philippine amphibians
and reptiles. He is presently based at the University of California, Berkeley.
The largest flower
Posted on 27 February, 2005 - 4:46am.

The world's largest flower, now blooming at Sibalom Natural Park in Antique

by Art Fuentes

To see the world’s largest flower for the first time is to encounter a life form
so strange, it makes you wonder if you’re in the presence of something
from a different planet or era. The Rafflesia is completely unlike any bloom
you have ever seen, or for that matter will ever see.

The flower exists, without the usual parts we have come to associate with
flowers, or even plants—no stem, no branch, not even leaves. Then there is
also the matter of its size which ranges in diameter from a cabbage head to
a car tire. The Rafflesia is the veritable T-Rex of the world of blossoms. And
because of all its strangeness, the Rafflesia is an awe to behold.

What is the Rafflesia?

The flower is named after its European discoverer Thomas Stamford Raffles.
First discovered in Sumatra in 1818, twenty Rafflesia species have been
found so far in different parts of Southeast Asia. Many of the species are
extremely rare, and have been recorded from only a handful of localities.

The flower is actually a parasite. It grows within its host, the tetrastigma
vine, and in its early stages appears as but a tangle of fibers. It only starts
manifesting itself during its reproductive cycle. Outgrowths appear on the
root vine (1), then cabbage-like buds develop (2), then a fully open flower
blooms (3) and bears fruit. The flowers themselves take a long time to

The Tamaraw: Mindoro's endangered treasure

Posted on 21 February, 2005 - 1:15pm.

The Tamaraw
Bubalus mindorensis

by Art Fuentes

Apart from the Philippine eagle, perhaps there is only one other animal that
can best symbolize the mass extinction of species that is happening here in
the Philippines—the Tamaraw. Once found in the thousands in the island of
Mindoro in the early 1900s, it is estimated that fewer than 300 survive
The reasons for the dramatic decline in the Tamaraw’s population are many.
The three most notable factors which led to it are:

1. the introduction of cattle into Mindoro in the early 1900s

2. rampant hunting of the species and
3. the widespread logging that destroyed much of Mindoro’s forests where
the Tamaraws live.

In the 1930s, there was an outbreak of the deadly rinderpest disease

among the cattle herds in Mindoro. The rinderpest plague eventually spread
to the Tamaraws and caused thousands of deaths among them. When the
plague subsided, less than a thousand Tamaraws were left.
Welcome surprises from Mt. Banahaw
Posted on 14 February, 2005 - 5:58am.

A previously undiscovered rodent species

by Lawrence Heaney

The three peaks of Mt. Banahaw rise high above the Laguna and Quezon
provinces, a familiar sight to vast numbers of people. Steeped in history,
the mountain has a prominent place in the hearts and minds of the
Southern Tagalog region. We recently discovered that this familiar
mountain is bale to surprise, even amaze, in ways that we could never have

We had gone to the mountain, most of which is within Mt. Banahaw-San

Cristobal National Park, to conduct a survey of its small mammals, since the
animals of this area are surprisingly poorly known.

We knew beforehand that Luzon Island has one of the world's greatest
concentrations of unique mammal species, and that tall mountains and
mountain ranges in Luzon often support species that live i nowhere else,
separated by broad lowland plains.

For that reason, we predicted that Mt. Banahaw could have several
previously unknown species of small mammals, but that they would be
closely related to other species elsewhere in Luzon.We also went to Mt.
Banahaw with the expectation of seeing widespread destruction of the
lowland forest by logging and kaingin, as is the case in far too many places
in the Philippines.
The campaign gains ground
Posted on 5 February, 2005 - 3:23am.

Parishoners at the Baclaran church sign up for a stop to further forest destruction.

Haribon Foundation’s “Boto Para sa Inang Bayan” campaign to gather one-

million signatures to ban commerical logging and mining in natural forests
surges ahead as it succeeds in getting 100,000 signatures from around the
country. The campaign was formally launched last February 3 at the New
World Renaissance Hotel in Makati City.

Timed to coincide with the mining summit hosted by the Chamber of Mines
and the Philippine government declaring the country’s mining industry as
“Open for Business,” the campaign launch showcased the growing number
of supporters joining the call to stop the further exploitation of our country’s
forests. Church leaders, celebrities, environmental activists and other sector
representatives turned up to show their support for the campaign.

The launch also formed part of a wider series of protest actions against the
government’s mining policy. More than 500 protesters from the Task Force
Sierra Madre and Alyansa Tigil Mina, two multi-sectoral alliances composed
of more than 50 groups including Haribon Foundation, massed outside the
mining summit’s venue. The group called for a moratorium on large-scale
commercial mining activities, declaring that the government’s current policy
on the pursuit of mining investments is tantamount to selling the national
The world's most rapid and massive deforestation
Posted on 4 February, 2005 - 5:18am.

We tend to see only the lumber in forests

Our forests have reached the threshold of sustainability. If we don't put a

stop to commercial logging and mining, our remaining forests will be
virtually wiped out in the next few years.

In 1900, forest cover in the Philippines was estimated at 21million hectares,

or 70% of the total land area (ESSC, 1999). Less than a century later, by
1988, our natural forests1 have been whittled down to 6 million hectares,
with Luzon having 49.49%, Visayas 10.08%, and Mindanao 40.43%
(NAMRIA 1988).

A decade later, the once lush forest cover was further reduced to a measly
800,000 hectares, or 18% of the country’s total land area (ESSC, 1999).
Most of the remaining natural forests are now small and fragmented.
Notwithstanding that these forests hold about 81% of our Important Bird
Areas (95 IBAs), they are virtually neglected by both the local and national
governments. Our forests have long ago reached the threshold of
The largest eagle in the world
Posted on 17 January, 2005 - 4:32am.

Largest or second largest?

By Blas R. Tabaranza Jr.

Norita Scott-Pezett of Audubon-Panama, a fellow BirdLife International
Global Council member (1999-2004), was shocked when I told her that, as
far as I know, their Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) is the largest eagle in the
world! “What?” she responded incredulously. “I thought all along that your
Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is the largest in the world!” Huh?

Since then I started to doubt what I used to know and gladly suspected that
she was right. I began to believe that the Haring Ibon is the largest eagle in
the world even without any solid basis yet, save for my hazy recollection of
two specimens displayed in the Smithsonian Museum at Washington, D.C.

Who or what authority proclaims which eagle is the largest in the world,
anyway? What would be the basis? I personally had no access to any
documents about it. Or perhaps, I was not looking hard enough in the right
The pull of the reefs
Posted on 7 January, 2005 - 4:01pm.
By Dr. Ma. Lurenda Suplido
Eleven years ago, I almost chose the sea. I knew what I wanted—to know
the names of sea stars; how far different crab species traveled inland; the
sea routes of the early Malay traders; how to monitor the success of
artificial reefs; how eels produce electricity; whether the mermaid my
grandmother saw in her childhood was, in fact, a dugong.

But I opted for a different career. The questions had to wait. It was not as if
the oceans would disappear.

During medical missions, I traveled to many remote areas in the

Philippines. Often, the last leg of the journey was via the sea. Armed with
the invincibility of the innocent, I practically walked on water.

But gradually, I came to know the harsh side of the sea, the fringes of its
culture where the hopeless could not remember legends of fair creatures in
lost cities, or the struggles of monsters beneath the waves. The stories I
heard were of the drowned and the hungry, how each passing storm was
deadlier than the one before.
New bird species discovered in Babuyan Islands
Posted on 14 November, 2004 - 12:15am.

By Patty Adversario

For biologists, there are few things quite as exciting as discovering a new
species. And though it has been said that the Philippines is one of the most
gifted countries in the world in term of biodiversity, there are few things
that demonstrate this fact quite as well as the discovery of a new form of
life right here on our shores.

A new bird species, believed to be found nowhere else in the world, has
been discovered on the remote island of Calayan, 70 km north of Luzon.

The bird will be named the ‘Calayan Rail’ (Gallirallus calayanensis), after the
island on which it was found. Calayan is the largest island in the Babuyan
Island group that lies between Batanes and Luzon.

The discovery was made by a team of nine volunteer wildlife researches

from the Philippines and the United Kingdom, who conducted a survey of
birds, mammals, repriles, and amphibians on the islands from April to June.
The team was led by conservationists Carl Oliveros and Genevieve Broad.
The Fight for Dinagat's Last Rainforest
Posted on 1 August, 2004 - 5:44pm.
Dinagat Island is nowhere near as famous as her neighbor Siargao. Dubbed
as the surfing capital of the Philippines, Siargao has attracted the limelight
for many of the most recent years. Siargao is also a declared National Park
whose forests and mountains are protected under the law.

But in terms of importance as a biodiversity haven, Dinagat Island definitely

ranks up there with Siargao. The northern tip of the Dinagat, specifically the
mountain ranges of Redondo and Kambinliw are home to some of the most
interesting and rarest plants and animals in the country.

Apo Reef: Damage and Restoration

Posted on 13 July, 2004 - 11:35am.
In the diving community, Apo Reef’s reputation as one of the most beautiful
dive spots in the world is legendary. Among conservationists, Apo Reef
represents one of the most precious biodiversity areas on the planet. The
reef—located in the waters of Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro—is known to
support thousands of species of fish, corals and other marine life, as well as
sea turtles, birds and dolphins and whales that make their transit around
the reef’s rich waters. In terms of the number of living organisms it
supports, Apo Reef’s value is almost incalculable.