December 13, 2007
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Slaughter of the birds
By Juan Mercado
"Stash that photo quick before the website
is pulled down." What photo? The "Massacre of the Birds,"
answers Wild Bird Club of the Philippines' Michael Lu.
Globally threatened Philippine Ducks/Mallards are some of the preferred "game birds" of the hunters |
Grisly snapshots of shot
birds, displayed on the Internet by the Bacolod Air
Rifle Hunting Club and other groups, sparked the drive
to muster 10,000 signatures to curb this slaughter.
The petition "requests media to cover shocking activities
of these bands," Lu explains. Public revulsion may prod
the government to enforce RA 9147. On paper, this law
protects wildlife. Neglect renders it inutile.
Routine browsing of the Net by Josef Sagemuller sparked
the club's infuriated protest. "Nothing prepared
(us) for the `Quarry' and `Photos' section of Bacolod
Air Rifle Hunting Club's ghastly website," says
Lu. "The photos displayed hundreds of slaughtered
doves, mallards, whistling ducks and snipes."
"It was unbelievable," the petition says. "One man in
the pictures has more dead ducks around his neck than
we've ever seen in the wild."
The same carnage is repeated by clubs in the provinces of Isabela,
Albay, Palawan, Cotabato, etc. They boast in other websites: from geocities "Birds We
Hunt" to air gun blogs. "This screaming injustice is illegal," the petition adds.
Of course, it is. But in this country, "the
illegal we do immediately," to paraphrase Henry Kissinger.
"The unconstitutional takes a little longer."
Scientists estimate that
the Philippines has 580 bird species. They range from
the Philippine eagle to the new-to-science gail, discovered
in Babuyan Islands in May 2004 by British and Filipino
scientists, led by Carmela Espanola. They found 200
pairs of these unique flightless birds, reports Forktail,
the journal of Asian ornithology.
Like rivers, birds make up a unique and sensitive early
warning system. When rivers dry up, or birds disappear,
it signals that "the environment is under such
stress that species which lived in them for thousands
of years, can no longer survive," the Philippines
Red Data Book notes.
Birds curb insect infestation and scatter seeds. But
they run a gauntlet of official disdain, shrinking forest
habitats, pollution, traps -- and air guns.
Meticulously-arranged carcasses of Zebra Doves and Spotted Doves from the hunters' website
A University of British Columbia study warned
a decade ago: "If the present rate of hunting persists in
the shrinking North Negros Forest Reserve, 20 percent of trees
would not regenerate."
Deforestation saw "a number of bird species disappear
from Cebu, Negros, Panay and Mindoro," a United Nations
study noted. "Of highest priority for conservation are
Indonesia's Lower Sundas, Eastern Himalayas, Luzon (especially
Negros' primary forest cover is less than 4 percent. There,
the tube-nosed fruit bat is probably down to one percent of
its original population, says Chicago's Field Museum. In denuded
Mindoro, a shrew, three unusual rodent species and at least
two fruit bats listed in the 1997 Philippine Red Data Book
are among those critically threatened.
Cebu is the country's most thoroughly deforested island. Once,
it had 14 species and subspecies of birds found nowhere else
in the world. Three of these are now extinct and, as Viewpoint
noted on Feb. 17, 2004, "they are now numbered among
the `feathered desaparecidos.'"
"All but one of those still living have fewer than 100
individuals in the entire population… One is the exquisite
Cebu flowerpecker. It's the most endangered species of bird
in the world. Only four individuals are known to be alive."
Unless hunters have gotten to them since.
Destruction of rain forests, plus hunters, may have doomed
these birds. "Overall, the Philippines today has the
most severely endangered plant and animal communities on earth,"
Conservation International points out. "It [ranks] first
in the world for the number  of endangered and critically
endangered unique bird species."
We also hold this added distinction: "The Philippines
is third highest in the world (after Indonesia and Brazil,
which are more than 20 times larger) for the number of globally
threatened bird species." Among these, 172 are "endemic"
or unique to the Philippines. And 75 are listed as endangered.
"Most birds today barely survive in a narrow band of
low-land forest around a few mountain peaks," Conservation
International notes. "Illegal logging and clearing for
subsistence farms cut that forest band ever thinner. In some
cases, the damage is greater, sadly definitive and irreversible."
And air guns blast the survivors.
The Philippine barebacked bat is now extinct. "It is
one of the first species to test, and verify, the horrible
prediction of impending extinction for one-third to two-thirds
of the species of mammals unique to the Philippines,"
says Conservation International.
Do these stark facts mean anything to these hunters? We cannot
wait to find out, says Lu. He urges all to save those grisly
website photos before outrage moves the authors to sweep them
under the rug. Those who would like to make common cause can
sign on. Their petition is available on this website address:
Perhaps one of the more poignant comments on this "massacre
of the birds" can be found in the graduation address
that National Scientist Dioscoro Umali delivered at the University
of the Philippines just before his death:
"Your children will no longer thrill, as we once did,
to the heart-stopping dive of a hawk. We've stripped the land
of its beauty. And the bitter tragedy is: the victims are
our grandchildren -- flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone."