Environmentalists have expressed alarm over a wildfire that has razed some 350 hectares of forest and grassland on Mount Apo, the highest peak in the Philippines.
While the blaze appears to have been bought under control, fears remain over how the fires will affect the critically endangered Philippines Eagle – the national bird of the Philippines.
Madonna Virola has this report from Calapan city.
Scientists and conservationists have gathered at the 25th National Biodiversity Symposium to discuss and collaborate on ways to conserve the Philippines’ rich biodiversity.
Among them is Dennis Salvador, executive director of the Philippine Eagle Foundation, from Davao City, in the southern Philippines.
Last year it was estimated there only 600 Philippine eagles left in the wild. Mostly they have been threatened by deforestation, logging and expanding agriculture.
But now Dennis says he’s also worried about the impact of the fires on Mt. Apo, which spread quickly because of the drought-like conditions. “We’re concerned because it’s near where Philippine eagles are nesting.”
The Philippine Eagle, is one of the rarest and most powerful birds in the world.
It has a large arched beak, thick brown and white feathers and a huge wingspan.
The eagle can grow to a meter high and weigh up to eight kilograms.
It is also the only blue-eyed bird of prey in the world, feeding on flying lemurs, squirrels, civets, snakes, hornbills, bats, and even, monkeys.
Dennis explains why the fires might affect the eagle’s food source.
“The Philippine eagles by nature because they are large predators, this particular prey occupies about 10,000 hectares. But there are certain other preys occupying the entire mountain range, and that means it extends beyond the Mount Apo park itself. Where this fire is occuring now, basically this will deprive the particular prey of habitat, a place to breed and places in which to forage or hunt.”
Efren Garcellano has been an active mountaineer for three decades and is now environmental consultant at Oriental Mindoro’s provincial government.
He says the government has not done enough to protect mountains like Apo and its unique biodiversity, like the Philippine Eagle, which is endemic and only found in certain areas of the country.
“Unfortunately, I don’t know if anybody has learned anything,” Garcellano said.
“It happens so many times in the past and nobody cares anymore. It depends on those who are aware to – maybe plan. One sorry thing about Mount Apo, there are no plans actually, the government is caught flat-footed, there is not much contingency planning when this thing happened.”
Dr. Antonio Manila is an assistant director at the national Biodiversity Management Bureau.
He says the sulfur deposits on Mt. Apo have made it extremely difficult to put out the fires – even though hundreds of volunteers have been helping out.
The government has also flown in choppers to drop gallons of water on the burning grasslands of the summit.
Following reports that irresponsible hikers started the blaze, when they didn’t put out a small fire they used for their cooking, Dr. Manila says the government is considering declaring Mt. Apo a no-go area.
“We wish to ban entry of our visitors going up to the mountain, maybe for about 3-5 years, if it is possible, or another possibility is to deputize volunteers in the community, or with the indigenous people in the community, to help us prevent this kind of situation happening in other parts of the country.”
Dr Manila believes that everybody must be aware of the situation if the problem is to be managed.
Conservationist Dennis Salvador hopes government will take a more pro-active approach to help preserve the critically endangered Philippine Eagle.
“The Philippine Eagle is the country’s top predators of the rainforest ecosystem and as such, it has a practical value in terms of maintaining the dynamics of this forest ecosystems,” Salvador remarked.
“Having a Philippine Eagle in a particular forest for instance tells you that this is healthy because there are many organisms will thrive there.”