February 12, 2009

Arctic Avian Population Threatened By Vanishing Philippines

Ornithologists have reported smaller numbers of birds native to the wetlands of the Philippines due to urbanization and growth of agriculture.

Such outside influences have caused the marshes to shrink from 32,000 hectares thirty years ago to just 72 hectares today.

"In the 1980s they would routinely count 100,000 wild Philippine ducks and mainland Asian garganays (wild ducks) in one day, just for the two species," Michael Lu, president of Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, told AFP.

Now ornithologists estimate that only 12,000 native birds reside across the wetlands.

The Candaba swamps are among those shrinking wetlands in the region. They are a key staging ground for birds ranging from huge purple herons to tiny Arctic warblers that return to continental Asia in the spring.

"This is the only place that remains as habitat for the birds," said Carmela Espanola, a wildlife biologist for the University of the Philippines.

Lu also said that many people still continue to hunt the wild birds in the wetland regions.

Candaba farmhand August Sombillo told AFP that he used to hunt the birds before the mayor banned the trapping of birds, unilaterally declaring the marsh a protected area and asking restaurants in surrounding towns to stop serving wildlife dishes.

Additionally, hog farmers have been asked not to get rid of pig waste in streams that lead to the swamp.

"The big ones like the spot-billed pelican used to come here in Candaba," Espanola told AFP. "There used to be cranes and woolly-necked storks, but they have been extirpated in the Philippines."

According to AFP, 181 of the 593 birds found in the Philippines are indigenous. Of these, 25 are considered endangered, half of them critically.


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