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This is the presentation given by Marites Balbas of Mabuwaya during the 8th Philippine Bird Festival on 7 December 2012. She discusses the significance of the Northern Sierra Madre natural park not only for  conservation of the Philippine Crocodile, the most severely threatened and rarest crocodile in the world, but also for biodiversity of trees, mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, butterflies, dragonflies, and other species.


Biodiversity Conservation in the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park
by Marites Gatan Balbas
Photos by Merlijn van Weerd

Good Morning to everyone. I am Tess Balbas of the Mabuwaya Foundation and today I am going to present to you a our Biodiversity Conservation Work in The Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park. But my presentation will focus on Philippine crocodile conservation, but dont worry as i will showing to you different birds that are found the NSMNP.
We work in northern Luzon in the Sierra Madre Mountains and Cagayan Valley
The Sierra Madre Mountain Range has the largest remaining stretch of forest in the Philippines. On this map you see the current forest cover with old growth forest shown as dark green and secondary forest as light green. The black lines show the boundary of the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park.
The Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park, or NSMNP, is one of the largest protected areas of our country. It protects the entire Sierra Madre Mountain Range in Isabela Province. It was established in 1999 and has an area of almost 360,000 ha. And it is globally important as it protects large numbers of species that can not be found anywhere else in the World.

On the eastern side we find extensive areas of undisturbed forest on the mountains along the Pacific Ocean.
While on the western side most lowland forest has been logged and converted into agricultural lands. Here we only find old growth forest at higher elevations.
The indigenous people of this area are the Agta, who still depend on hunting and fishing for their livelihood.
The NSMNP still harbours many species that have become rare or extinct elsewhere.
This is what we know of the species diversity in the NSMNP now. Some studies are ongoing such as an inventory of the Dragonflies, and of the Amphibians and Reptiles, and the number of species will definately rise further. Mabuwaya is involved in all of these studies. As you can see, 294 bird species have been found in the NSMNP. That is almost 50 % of all bird species of the Philippines.
73 species that live in the NSMNP are globally threatened. Among them the critically endangered Philippine Eagle, Isabela Oriole and the Philippine crocodile.
The Isabela Oriole is still found in the municipality of San Mariano. Joni Acay is now conducting a study of Isabela Orioles which she will present here today as well.
Some species found in the Sierra Madre are endemic to Luzon and satellite islands such as the Luzon Racquet-tail Parrot and the Cream-bellied Fruit-dove.
The Luzon Bleeding-heart Pigeon is endemic to Greater Luzon.
The Furtive Flycatcher and the Golden-crowned Babbler are small insect-eating birds that live deep in the forest. They are endemic to Luzon. The Philippine Dwarf-kingfisher is a forest species that does not eat fish but insects and small reptiles. Its endemic to the Philippines. The Philippine Eagle-Owl is our biggest Owl.
The NSMNP also has more than 40 species of bats, both insect-eating (left) and fruit bats (right).
And the largest roost site of flying foxes in the Philippines.
25 species of amphibians have been found to date in the NSMNP.
And 65 species of reptiles
Including the newly described fruit-eating monitor lizard: the Bitatawa. (One of the type specimens of the Bitatawa can be found on the top floor of the National Museum in the biodiversity exposition).
The Saltwater crocodile.
And the Philippine crocodile.
There are two species of crocodiles in the Philippines. The Saltwater crocodile crocodylys porosus and the Philippine crocodile crocodylus mindorensis. The saltwater crocodile is widespread from India to Australia and is not globally threatened while the Philippine crocodile is endemic to the Philippines and is critically endangered.
The Philippine crocodile is the most severely threatened crocodile in the world.
The Philippine crocodile used to be widespread in the Philippines as you can see in the map from the island of Dalupiri, Luzon, the Visayas and in Mindanao.
But now, Philippine crocodiles are only known from five localities, in Dalupiri Island, Abra, Divilacan, San Mariano and Liguwasan Marsh.
Hunting, habitat loss and destructive fishing methods are the main reasons for the decline of its population.
There is a captive breeding program for the Philippine Crocodile on Palawan, but these crocs are kept in captivity.
While in the wild Philippine crocodiles continue to be captured and killed. Officially crocodiles are protected by the Wildlife Act but law enforcement is weak.
Mabuwaya works in 3 municipalities in Isabela Province.. In Maconacon, Divilacan and San Mariano. Our office is located in Cabagan at the campus of Isabela State University.
Philippine Crocodile survives in an extensively cultivated upland area of San Mariano. This area is the place where we first found the Philippine Crocodile.
This is another habitat of the Philippine Crocodile, Disulap River.
And Dunoy Lake which is found within the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park. Here you can also find the Isabela Oriole and the newly described Bitatawa.
This is Dinang Creek.
Where you can find people washing their clothes and carabaos bathing during the day
but during the night, in the same spot you will see an adult Philippine Crocodile.
The Indigenous people here, the Agta and the Kalinga respect the crocodile because of their traditional beliefs.
But all beliefs are vanising and so the crocodiles. This is the same crocodile that you saw basking on the rock… A picture of this individual was even on an official postal stamp of the Philippines. But it was killed in 2010 by an unknown person.
Electrofishing is sometimes still observed and this threatens the crocodiles and their food supply.
And unsustainable farming still continues and threatens ecosystem services, the livelihood of upland farmers and biodiversity.
Larger crocodiles live in fast-flowing rivers.
And suitable habitat for small crocodiles is rare. Most Mashes have been converted into ricefields.
The Mabuwaya Foundation is working very closely with the DENR, LGU’s Leiden University and Isabela State University
to answer the question “how can we conserve the rarest crocodile on the planet?”
Mabuwaya uses a community-based conservation approach aimed at local acceptance and participation in crocodile conservation.
There is a little public support for Philippine crocodile conservation.
Because of things like this….
Now, can crocodiles and people co-exist in the Philippines?
We believe that Communication is the key. We produce information materials and posters.
We use the Philippine crocodile as flagship species for sustainable wetland management.
We also use active communication such as theatre shows during fiestas.
Puppets shows in the schools.
And a party with Krokey so that fear of crocodiles will be lessened if not removed.
We conduct school lectures for elementary and high schools.
And we organize school visits for college students to give them the chance to see crocodiles in the wild.
We also use interactive communications such as workshops and community consultations so we can discuss issues about crocodile conservation.
And we encourage local participation in land use planning.
Using 3d Modelling, so they can clearly visualize areas for conservation.
We train local people on environmental law enforcement.
And teach them proper documentation when they will arrest violators.
So they will be effective law enforcers.
To strengthen the protection efforts more, the people declared fish and crocodile sanctuaries.
And local ordinances were enacted.
Aside from these, we also do crocodile nest protection.
Up to the time that eggs are hatched.
To increase survival of the hatchlings, we collect them and
bring them to the rearing station where we take care of them up to 2 years.
Soft release ponds are constructed.
These ponds serve as soft relase areas for the head-started crocodiles
where children and community members release their crocodiles.
The community based-conservation approached is successful, the killing of crocodiles has dropped.
And the population of crocodile is slowly increasing.
Philippine crocodile conservation also benefits other species.
Now people in San Mariano take pride in their crocodiles.
And they also benefit from it. We provided a pump well for them.
And now people claim that since wetland and wetland resources are better protected. They have more fish to catch and cleaner water.
But there are also costs to communities that live near crocodiles such as livestock predation.
Crocodile attacks happen, especially if you don’t follow the rules.
Regulations on buffer zones are not strictly implemented. Such as this picture.
And this one… what will happen to this pig if a crocodile is roaming in his habitat?
So we are still doing all of these activities to lessen crocodile conflicts. These are reforestation of buffer zones, provision of pump wells so people don’t have to go to the river to take a bath or get water, building of livestock pens, and informing people of how to live together with crocodiles. We hope that in time we will achieve our goals of protecting crocodiles and lessening conflicts and that people and crocodiles can live happily together .
And to anyone who would like to know more about the Philippine crocodile and our conservation work, buy this book and you are already giving your share for Philippine crocodile conservation.
Thank you very much and Mabuhay Buwaya!


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  2. John Olsson

    Hello Folks. Great work you guys are doing. I wish I could be there to help. Would like to know more about the large croc that was killed in 2010. How was it killed and were the perpetrators apprehended? It looked like a salt water croc, and was too large to be a Mondoro croc. Is that correct? Please keep me posted. John

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