The Philippines is one of the most wildlife-rich areas in the entire world. To conservationists, it is one of earth’s “Biodiversity hotspots” due to the many species of animals and plants that call the islands home. Some of these creatures are found nowhere else on earth. The biodiversity of the Philippines attracts many visitors each year, and it an important element in the country’s tourism industry. However, many of the native animals that make this island so special are also in danger.
The main threat to the unique flora and fauna of the Philippines is loss of habitat due to human activity. The human population of the Philippines has been growing rapidly, and humans tend to expand their own habitat at the expense of other animals and plants. This means that there is less land available to support Philippine wildlife. Habitat destruction is also caused by activities such as logging and mining, where habitat is destroyed in order to extract and profit off the natural resources it contains. The combined impact of these activities has been to reduce the Philippine rainforests to 3% of what they once were (http://www.cepf.net/xp/cepf/where_we_work/philippines/philippines_info.xml
There are too many unusual yet threatened species in the Philippines to discuss in a single article. The following paragraphs will profile 4 of the most unique Philippine natives in order to give a small sample of the biodiversity these islands possess.
For example, the tarsier of Bohol is a one of the smallest primates in existence today-second only to the pygmy mouse lemur (http://www.geocities.com/Yosemite/3712/tarsier.html). These tiny animals weigh only 4-5 ounces, but their specially elongated anklebones allow them to leap approximately 10 feet into the air. Like owls, tarsiers can turn their heads 180 degrees in either direction (eesp.freeservers.com/cgi-bin/ad/framed?page=tarsie...
). They have enormous eyes for seeing at night, giving them a comical but cute appearance. The species is listed as threatened, but the Philippine Tarsier Foundation on Bohol maintains a habitat preserve for them near Corella (http://www.geocities.com/Yosemite/3712/tarsier.html). This serves a dual purpose of keeping land available for the tarsiers to live on and bringing tourism to the area. The visitor center also helps raise awareness.
The Philippines is also home to the world’s largest bat, the golden-crowned flying fox. This bat has can weigh up to 3 pounds and has a wingspan of up to 5 feet. Unlike many of their bat cousins, flying foxes have elongated, fox-like faces with big eyes and dog-like noses. They are cute, rather than frightening. Their favorite food is figs, and they play an important role in both pollination and spread of seeds for many rainforest fruits. Originally, they were widespread and populous, living in colonies of 100,000 or more, but by the 1980’s hunting and habitat pressures had reduced most colonies to a few thousand bats (http://www.fieldmuseum.org/vanishing_treasures/V_FFox.htm
Another interesting species that calls the Philippines home is the dugong, or sea cow. The dugong is a gentle marine mammal related to the manatee. It is thought to have inspired myths of mermaids. However, the sailors that mistook this creature for woman with a fish tail must have been very lonely indeed! Dugongs are not attractive, but they are very interesting animals. They can live up to 70 years, almost as long as human. They are threatened due to loss of sea grass habitat, which is their sole source of nourishment, as well as hunting (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/kids/2004/03/dugongs.html). It is difficult for populations to recover because they reproduce slowly (http://www.asianinfo.org/asianinfo/philippines/pro-wildlife.htm).
The Philippine Eagle, the national bird, is another majestic species tenuously clinging to life. These eagles have the largest wingspan of any eagle-up to 8 feet! (Puracan, Karen www.dvrconline.org/phileagle.html
). Once widespread, by the early 1960’s they could only be found on 4 Philippine islands. Deforestation has taken a tremendous toll on these beautiful birds, as they have not adapted to survival outside of their rainforest habitat. However, serious efforts are being made to save the species in Davao city. The Philippine Eagle Foundation offers local people cash rewards for preserving the eagles, and also has started a captive breeding program, with 2 young eaglets hatched and fledged (Puracan, Karen www.dvrconline.org/phileagle.html
Hopefully, the success of ecotourism in the Philippines will help preserve these and other species by providing an incentive to maintain their habitat. Private foundations and the Philippine government also have a role to play in preserving the unique biodiversity of the Philippines. However, large-scale preservation efforts generally work best when people can see that it is in their own best interests to take care of their environment.