Mount Siburan in the Philippines is considered one of the world’s most critical biodiversity areas. Located in Sablayan, it is the largest tract of lowland forest in Mindoro and home to several species which can only be found in this province such as the critically-endangered Mindoro Bleeding-Heart pigeon.
The Mindoro Bleeding-Heart’s wounded appearance does not stray far from its true plight with about 400 left in the wild. This was mainly caused by the loss of habitat from deforestation.
With only a patch of primary forests left in the Philippines, what remains of the Bleeding-Heart pigeons are facing greater threats than ever before. Often, these birds are trapped accidentally in snares used to capture other target animals for personal consumption (by indigenous peoples or forest-dependent communities) or pet trade.
Along with other adjacent forests, Mount Siburan could also be the last frontier of the elusive and endemic Philippine Tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis). Moreover, these mountains could be the only remaining refuge of the Mangyans, the indigenous people of Mindoro.
Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro has a total land area of 218,909 hectares primarily devoted to settlements and agriculture. Local communities in Mount Siburan are mostly subsistence farmers that rely on the mountains for timber and non-timber products such as rattan, honey, wild yam and medicines.
Forest activity threats
In a community dialogue, Siburan residents reported about ongoing forest activities that threaten their forest home. This includes collection of firewood, rattan and bamboo from nearby forests, and snaring birds.
Birds, like other forest species, play an important role in keeping the ecosystem in balance. They are helpful in the forest growth through seed dispersals, said the Haribon Foundation.
Other wildlife species are also threatened by disturbance in the forest undergrowth from activities such as the collection of rattan, occasional logging of large trees and milling on site for furniture production.
Monitoring by citizens
The Mindoro Bleeding-Heart is a focus of the conservation organization and BirdLife International partner Haribon Foundation. For the past 15 years, the group has been working with communities in the island to conserve this unique species and their habitats.
Currently, communities in Siburan are being taught how to effectively monitor forest use, forest condition and forest carbon stocks through a series of trainings by Haribon Foundation.
At present, the Sablayan local government is undergoing deliberations to declare the Mount Siburan and the Aruyan-Malate area as critical habitat (CH) for the Mindoro Bleeding-Heart pigeons, Mindoro Hornbill, Philippine Tamaraw and other critically endangered species.
“We want to determine the current population of Tamaraws in Aruyan-Malate and how they are different in characteristics from the ones found in Mount Iglit,” said Fernando Dalangin, Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer in Sablayan.
“To protect our watersheds and other endangered species like the Mindoro Bleeding-Heart pigeons and coucal birds, we are also covering Mount Siburan as part of the critical habitat,” he added.
This five-year project funded by the European Commission seeks to strengthen the involvement of community-based and civil society organizations, private sector entities, including indigenous people communities, in working toward effective forest governance.
“We hope that the local government continues these conservation efforts in Mount Siburan even after the project of Haribon ends,” appealed Joselito Balbin, 49, chief of village Palbong’s Community-Based Forest Management Agreement.