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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, February 8, 2016
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with ERROL A. GATUMBATO
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The Philippines' bleeding hearts

We usually associate February as the month of hearts, which symbolizes love, simply because the Valentine's Day, February 14, falls within this season. For Roman Catholics, the Valentine's Day is the feast day of Saint Valentine, the patron saint of love, young people, and happy marriages.

One may wonder why today's Conservation Matters features bleeding hearts when supposedly many are happily commemorating the Valentine's Day. Bleeding hearts connote sadness and despair, and, indeed, it is true, not only for broken-hearted persons, but also for the bleeding-heart pigeons of the Philippines, since they are all threatened from extinction in the wild.

I was reminded to prepare this piece after I saw the recent Facebook post of Lisa Paguntalan, executive director of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., on the different species of bleeding-heart pigeons in the Philippines. I thought, in as much that the Valentine's Day is fast approaching, it is timely to share something about our bleeding-heart pigeons, as they are great ambassadors and symbols of love, too.

The bleeding-heart pigeons got their names from the distinctive red patch found on their breast. We have five species of bleeding-heart pigeons, all are endemic to the Philippines, and each of them is restricted to a particular island. The Negros bleeding-heart (Gallicolumba keayi) was once thought to exist only in Negros, until it was discovered in Panay in the 80s. Unfortunately, with the dwindling forest cover of these two neighboring islands, that was once a single landmass (along with Cebu, Masbate and Guimaras) millions of years ago, the Negros bleeding-heart is already declared as critically endangered species, meaning, its population in the wild is getting limited.

Similarly, the Mindoro bleeding-heart pigeon (Gallicolumba platenae) is listed as critically-endangered. This species is restricted only in Mindoro Island, and could not be found elsewhere. The fate of another critically endangered bleeding-heart, the Sulu bleeding-heart pigeon (Gallicolumba menagei), is hardly known, because there were no recent surveys conducted in the site where it inhabits, which is in Sulu Archipelago.

The Mindanao bleeding-heart pigeon (Gallicolumba criniger) has been declared as vulnerable species, although it can be found not only in Mindanao, but also in Samar, Leyte, Bohol, and Dinagat. The Luzon bleeding-heart pigeon (Gallicolumba luzonica), which has been recorded in Sierra Madre Mountains, Quezon National Park, Mt. Makiling, Mt. Bulusan, Polillo Islands, and Catanduanes in Luzon, is considered near threatened.

The Birdlife International and the IUCN-World Conservation Union made these declarations on the conservation status of the different bleeding-heart pigeons of the Philippines. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, through its Biodiversity Management Bureau, has likewise included these species on its Red List of Threatened Species. As such, collection of these species from the wild is prohibited.

Primarily, the Philippines' bleeding-hearts are lowland forest dwelling species, making them susceptible to hunting. The bleeding-hearts usually dwell on the forest floor. They only fly into the trees to roost or breed, and to seek refuge, especially when disturbed. Most of our lowland forests have been subjected to extensive logging and many of these areas are now converted into agriculture, settlement, and even industrial sites.

The destruction and deterioration of lowland forest habitats are the culprits why our bleeding-heart pigeons and other endemic species are already threatened to extinction in the wild. It is, therefore, of paramount importance to secure the remaining forest habitats and restore denuded forestlands, especially those areas formerly known to inhabit our bleeding-hearts and other important wildlife species. *


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