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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, June 24, 2019
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with Errol A. Gatumbato

Species conservation planning

Rock & Refuge

Negros Occidental will host the first ever species conservation action planning involving five highly-threatened species that are restricted only in the West Visayas Faunal Region.

The Talarak Foundation, along with other conservation organizations, national agencies, local government units, and indigenous people groups, leads the organizing of this planning workshop, which shall be facilitated by global wildlife experts from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – Species Survival Commission and Conservation Planning Specialists Group.

The event opens today and will culminate on June 27 at Sugarland Hotel in Bacolod City.

The species subject for this planning are the Visayan warty pig, Visayan or Philippine spotted deer, Rufous-headed hornbill, Tarictic hornbill, and Negros bleeding-heart pigeon. The population of these species is known to occur only in the West Visayas Faunal Region, or West Visayas Biogeographic Zone, comprising the islands of Negros, Panay, Cebu, Masbate, Guimaras, and their satellite islands.

The Birdlife International once declared the Rufous-headed hornbill as possibly and functionally extinct in Negros Island, until it was rediscovered a few years ago in the Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental by the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. Since then, the species has been recorded in the annual hornbill count initiated by the PBCFI, or PhilBio, in Negros. The remaining matured population of this species of hornbill in the wild is placed by the IUCN and Birdlife at about 1,000 to 2,499 individuals and confined only in Negros and Panay. It is already classified as critically endangered, the highest threat assigned to a particular species that is facing grave threats, especially hunting and habitat destruction, from extinction in the wild.

The Visayan tarictic hornbill shall also be included in the species action planning, because it is already endangered, the second highest threat to species with limited population in the wild. Although this species still exists in Negros, Panay, and Masbate, its matured population in the wild is estimated only at about 1,200 individuals. In the recent hornbill count of the PhilBio, this species was still recorded in the three terrestrial protected areas in Negros - NNNP, Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, and the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park.

Another critically-endangered bird, the Negros bleeding-heart pigeon, shall be the subject of intensive discussion during the planning workshop this week. The matured population in the wild of this species is already at critical level, estimated at only about 50 to 249 individuals, based on the latest assessment of the IUCN and Birdlife. This species was once thought to exist only in Negros, until it was also recorded in Panay in 1997.

The decline of the population of the Negros bleeding-heart is primarily attributed to hunting and the destruction of lowland forests, since this bird is known as lowland and ground-dwelling specialist. Most of the lowland forests in Negros and Panay have been previously covered with logging concessions and are now converted into other purposes, specifically agriculture and settlement. No other records have been known for this species in recent years from other islands in the West Visayas Faunal Region.

The species conservation action plan for the Visayan warty pig and Visayan spotted deer that are similarly in critical conditions shall be drafted during the planning workshop.

The Visayan spotted deer is classified as endangered species with matured population in the wild estimated at only 700 individuals. This unique and regal kind of deer was specifically recorded in the Central Panay Mountain, NNNP, MKNP, BTLNP, and Cuernos de Negros in Negros Oriental.

The Visayan warty pig, which has been described by late British wildlife specialist, William Oliver, as probably the most threatened pig species in the world, is another critically endangered mammal that should be covered with species action plan. The matured population of the warty pig in the wild is still unknown.

The population of the warty pig is already eliminated in the three of the six islands where it was formerly recorded, according to the IUCN. The last time it was found in the wild in Cebu was in 1960s, and it has never been recorded in recent times in Guimaras and Ticao. This pig is further classified as functionally extinct in Masbate as it was last recorded in that island in 1993. The remaining viable population of the Visayan warty pig occurs only in Negros and Panay.

During the four-day planning workshop, status and threats analysis as well as corresponding conservation and protection strategies for these five species shall be discussed and laid down.

Oliver, who was one the founding officers of PhilBio, in partnership with the Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, initiated the successful captive breeding of these five species at the Biodiversity Conservation Center in Bacolod City that is presently administered by the Talarak Foundation.

The possible reintroduction of the successfully captive-bred and viable species may also be considered as one conservation measure to be implemented. The PhilBio and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, through its Biodiversity Financing Initiatives, facilitated last year the preparation of biodiversity strategy and action plan for Negros, Panay, and Cebu, which similarly considered the conservation strategies of these species.*

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