By Danny O. Calleja
VIRAC, Catanduanes, (PNA) -– Apart from its majestic beaches, treasured historical legacies, lush natural resources and people of culture, the island province of Catanduanes should also be celebrated for its rare and diverse wildlife.
Sitting off the northeastern side of the Bicol Peninsula, the province is a 182,300-hectare landmass that boasts of substantial dipterocarp-type woodland covering about 69,770 hectares, which is considered the largest remaining forest block in the whole of the Bicol region.
Unknown to many, this forest, despite bearing an ugly history of logging and other misuses apart from intense beatings by typhoons and land erosions, remains home to many of the threatened and restricted-range birds of the Endemic Bird Area (EBA) of Luzon.
This EBA, as classified by Birdlife International, includes the lowlands and mountains of Luzon, including its associated islands of Polillo, Marinduque and Catanduanes — covering over 100,000 square kilometers.
The extensive lowland forest existing and enjoying government protection in Catanduanes supports the important populations of these birds to make the province one of the few islands of the country where the Philippine Cockatoo and Cream-bellied Fruit-dove appear to be particularly numerous.
According to Joaquin Ed Guerrero, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) based in this capital town, these birds as well as two of the restricted-range species — Luzon Bleeding-heart and Grey-backed Tailorbird, are substantially present in most parts of the 26,010-hectare Catanduanes Watershed Forest Reserve (CWFR).
Philippine Cockatoo is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a “critically endangered” species.
Cream-bellied Fruit-dove, Luzon Bleeding-heart and Grey-backed Tailorbird are listed as “threatened.”
The Philippine Dwarf-kingfisher, Philippine Eagle-Owl (Bubo Philippensis) and Duck (Anas luzonica), all classified by the IUCN as “vulnerable,” are also present out in the wilds of CWFR, Guerrero said.
The presence of these species, he said, makes bird watching, which is another ecotourism wonder of the province, exciting.
Birdlife International also considers the Catanduanes forest as an Important Bird Area (IBA) where endemic mammal species — such as Philippine Nectar Bat (Eonycteris robusta), Large Rufous Horsesheo Bat (Rhinolophus rufus), Mottle-winged Flying Fox (Pteropus leucopterus), Southern Luzon Giant Cloud Rat (Phloeomys cumingi), Philippine Warty Pig (Sus philippensis) and Philippine Brown Deer (Cervus mariannus) — also thrive.
The area also harbors a significant number of endemic amphibians and reptiles — among them the Truncate-toed Chorus Frog (Kaloula conjuncta), Rough-backed Forest Frog (Platymantis corrugates), Common Forest Frog (Platymantis dorsalis), Giant Philippine Frog (Rana magna), Woodworth’s Frog (R. woodworthi), Mindoro Narrow-disked Gecko (Gekko mindorensis).
Others are the Philippine Calotes (Calotes marmoratus), Common Flying Lizard (Draco spilopterus), Common Burrowing Skink (Brachymeles boulengeri), Two-digit Worm Skink (Brachymeles samarensis), Northern Keel-scaled Tree Skink (Dasia grisea) and Yellow-striped Slender Tree Skink (Lipinia pulchellum).
The Jagor’s Sphenomorphus (Sphenomorphus jagori), Steere’s Sphenomorphus (S. steerei), Black-Sided Sphenomorphus (S. decipiens), Dog-faced Water Snake (Cerberus rynchops), Philippine Cylindrical Snake (Hologerrhum philippinum) and Smooth-scaled Mountain Rat Snake (Zaocys luzonensis) also live well in the island.
Globally threatened species such as the Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), the Endemic Sailfin Water Lizard (Hydrosaurus pustulatus) and Gray’s Monitor Lizard (Varanus olivaceus) were likewise recorded in the area.
Particularly noteworthy is the Narrow-mouthed Frog (Kaloula kokacii), which is found only on Catanduanes island.
Threatened marine turtles such as the endangered Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) also occur in the area.
Birdlife International, Guerrero said, recorded as real finds these wildlife species under its Asian IBA Programme that seeks to provide a basis for the development of national conservation and protection strategies.
It highlights areas that should be safeguarded through wise land-use planning, national policies and regulations, the grant-giving and lending program of international banks and development agencies and provide a focus for the conservation efforts of civil society, including national and regional non-government networks.
It also identifies sites that are threatened or inadequately protected, so that urgent remedial measures can be taken, and guide the implementation of global conservation conventions and migratory bird agreements.
If the degradation and loss of natural ecosystems in areas like Catanduanes are to be halted and the essential services and products they provide are to be maintained, it is vital that the negative impacts of economic development on biodiversity are mitigated, and that proactive measures are taken to conserve highest priority sites, the Bird International program said.
According to the organization, the greatest threat to these wildlife properties is mining but Guerrero said, since there is no major mining activities in the Catanduanes, these species will remain as among the most precious possessions of the province for long.
Catanduanes sits on a huge volume of high-grade coal and past attempts by the mining industry to get its hands into it have been foiled by local environmentalists backed up by the provincial and local government units.