The Philippine Eagle was first spotted and recorded in 1896 on the island of Samar in Eastern Visayas. British naturalist John Whitehead, who discovered the specie, gave
it its binomial name, Pithecophaga jefferyi, to honor his father Jeffery.
More than a century later, researchers, conservationists, and nongovernment organizations converged at Catarman, Northern Samar through a symposium where they discussed and shared the latest scientific findings not only on the Philippine Eagle and other birds, but also reptiles and mammals, among many others.
Organized by the Biodiversity Conservation Society of the Philippines (BCSP), the 24th Biodervisty Symposium pushed for the understanding of the Philippines’ unique biodiversity under the theme “Island Biodiversity Conservation: Successes, Challenges and Future Direction.”
Dozens of talks from researchers from around the world were presented from April 14 to 19 on the campus of the University of Eastern Philippines in Catarman.
Haribon’s research department highlighted the Philippine Eagle by presenting its findings gathered from recent surveys at Mt. Mingan in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range, as well as community work in General Nakar. A juvenile Philippine Eagle was found not far from Gabaldon in Nueva Ecija. A rare photo of the majestic bird carrying its prey as it flew high in the sky was also shown to symposium participants.
The Philippine Eagle, along with all the other species studied by symposium attendants, all represent the health and vitality of the watersheds from which we consume and enjoy our water, the coastlines from which we enjoy our fish and beach front hotels, and the forests that provide further ecological, cultural, and financial provision to Philippine cities, towns, and villages.
Meanwhile, a plenary talk by Lawrence Heaney, Ph.D., curator of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, explained that the continuous discovery of species in the country may be linked to the Philippines’ geological history.
He added that the peaks of what is now known as the Cordillera and Sierra Mountain Ranges were at one point, around 14 million years ago, mere islands rising from the Pacific.
As the geological landscape of these islands changed, so did the species living on them. After millions of years, many of these species, like the Northern Luzon Giant Cloud Rat (Phloeomys pallid us), produced further mammalian diversity. In fact, five endemic mammal species can be found on the Northern Sierra Madre alone, and 15 endemic species of mammals can be found in the Cordillera Mountain Range. One of these species uses whiskers longer than many mammals known today to traverse its dark and foggy habitat high in the mountains. Heaney fittingly labeled these habitats “Sky Islands.”
As the symposium went on, chatter of conservation issues and difficulties in biodiversity protection also arose in the midst of the data and science.
Merlijn van Weerd of the Mabuwaya Foundation based in the Northern Sierra Madre expressed his disappointment at the approval of road construction work that would eventually damage biodiverse primary forest in Isabela province and open up Isabela’s untouched coastal areas to human disruption.
Angel Alcala, Ph.D., who was awarded as the National Scientist in 2014 for his work and advocacy of marine no-take zones in the Philippines, explained how today’s human-induced climate change could have adverse effects on today’s biodiversity, despite the latter having survived episodes of global climate change in the past.
The Haribon Foundation stressed the importance of re-examining the definition of forest according to national law. Haribon COO Beechie de la Paz emphasized the importance of re-evaluating current definitions of forest, especially since the ecological and cultural offerings of forests are not emphasized there. This continues to put precious untouched forest important to communities far and wide at risk.
Along with several other NGOs, Haribon also installed an exhibit throughout the symposium highlighting important campaigns. In regards to forests, Haribon displayed a Philippine map showing the amount of hectares currently reforested under the Rainforest Organizations and Advocates (ROAD) to 2020 movement.
In addition to the exhibit, the foundation presented four scientific posters. Two of them informed the public of Haribon’s biodiversity education with high school teachers in Oriental Mindoro and Isabela provinces, as well as elementary school students in Metro Manila. A third poster highlighted the diversity and similarity of migratory bird species in four important wetland areas in the Philippines, while a fourth displayed a map of the Philippines, overlaid with a multi-spatial analysis of the country and its conservation areas, namely Key Biodiversity Areas (or KBAs), as well as Protected Areas (or PAs) under Philippine law.
It is hope that backed with sound science, community involvement, and civic participation, the data and results shared at the 24th Biodiversity Symposium will be used to spotlight the diverse and wonderful Philippine species, as well as to also continue the cause for their conservation.
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