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"Holocaust" feared in Candaba bird haven

‘Holocaust’ feared in Candaba bird haven
Philippine Daily Inquirer
By Tonette Orejas
Central Luzon Desk
First Posted 04:48:00 04/13/2010


The waters were drained at the height of El Nino to "rehabilitate" the pond
CANDABA, PAMPANGA—Warning of an “avian holocaust” in an important wetland here, conservationists raised concern for the safety of local and migratory birds and their habitat after a pond owned by the family of Mayor Jerry Pelayo was drained and the drought further dried it up.

“You don’t take off the water. That’s holocaust for the water birds,” Arne Jensen, an ornithologist, said in a telephone interview on Sunday.

The pond, located in Barangay San Pablo Vizal here, belongs to a 72-hectare estate within the Candaba Swamp, a 30,000-ha wetland that covers parts of Nueva Ecija, Pampanga and Bulacan.

Two ponds in the estate host 120 species of birds—68 of them from various parts of the world—that escape winter, and breed and feed there from September to February.

Water level check

Pelayo on Monday corrected reports that the pond, about a hectare in size, was entirely drained.

Water in the canal encircling the inner edges of the pond has been maintained at three to five feet high, a check by the Inquirer on Monday showed.

Pelayo said farmers build their canals this way because lands are used to cultivate rice on dry months and grow fish on months when the Candaba Swamp is flooded.

“We took out the bulk of the water because we are rehabilitating the pond at this time when only a few migratory birds are around. We’re planting rows of the bayakbak (a woody shrub) as wind breakers. These will help the birds get rest from the beatings of the wind,” he said.

Conservation efforts

But Jensen, who also heads the records committee of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, urged more conservation efforts because the pond has become a bird sanctuary.

Pelayo said his family had given priority to conservation efforts since 2002. The municipal government does not provide direct support although the local council has declared it a sanctuary through a resolution in 2004.

Candaba instead used a P2-million grant from the German government to put up an information center and bamboo hides around the two ponds, he said.

Except for support in the annual Asian Waterbird Census, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has yet to assign an ornithologist or any other technical staff to the area.

Signs of things unusual are seen on the site.

For instance, some birds like the grey heron, black winged stilt, egret and tufted duck, have overstayed when they usually leave in February, said Leny Manalo, the town administrator

The bean goose, found in Europe, was first seen here in March.

Drought

Florante Mangulabnan said local farmers deal with a drought that is considered worse than the one that struck them 15 years ago.

On Monday, Mangulabnan and his farm workers sucked water from a stream, transferring this to another stream seven kilometers down to irrigate his 11-ha rice land.

Mangulabnan said he learned from his relatives in Sitio Cordero and Caballado that they drew water from Pelayo’s farm a few weeks before the harvest in February to rescue their crops from the dry spell.

Pelayo denied this, saying the pond was drained two weeks ago and not in February.

But amid concerns arising from the draining, Manalo urged conservation groups to help the town government manage the ecosystem to strike a balance between the needs of farmers and the birds.