January 25, 2011, 3:52pm
Wild ducks fly around a bird sanctuary in
the town of Candaba, north of Manila. (AFP)
CANDABA, Philippines (AFP) – The number
of birds flying south to important wintering grounds in the
Philippines has fallen sharply this year, with experts saying
the dramatic demise of wetlands and hunting are to blame.
Despite some harsh, cold weather across the
Eurasian landmass, some waterbirds that usually migrate in
huge flocks to the tropical islands have been completely absent,
said Philippine-based Danish ornithologist Arne Jensen.
"The flyway populations of several waterbird
species are in constant and dramatic decline," Jensen,
who advises the Philippine government on species conservation,
"Hence the urgent need to establish
real and well-managed, hunting-free waterbird sanctuaries
along the migratory flyways."
Candaba, a swamp two hours' drive north of
Manila that has long been used as a pit stop by hundreds of
species as they fly staggering distances between the Arctic
Circle and Australia, appears emblematic of the downfall.
Jensen said that bird watchers routinely
counted 100,000 ducks at Candaba in the 1980s as they stopped
there for a rest while traversing the East Asian-Australasian
But volunteers recorded just 8,725 waterbirds
and 41 species during the annual census last weekend, Wild
Bird Club of the Philippines president Michael Lu told AFP
at Candaba at the end of the count.
Northern pintails, common pochards, and green-winged
teals were absent, and just one tufted duck was seen, while
numbers for northern shovellers shrank and only garganeys
were easily seen along with resident Philippine ducks.
Lu said the number of waterbirds counted
at Candaba was down from more than 11,000 last year.
"The main threat is hunting," said
Lu, amid occasional loud bangs that were apparently gunfire
or firecrackers set off by local residents seeking to flush
out the birds.
But Lu also pointed to the dramatic shrinkage
in the size of the swamp over the past 50 years as the region
was converted into farmland, mainly rice fields.
The swamp two generations ago covered 27,000
hectares (66,690 acres), but it is now just 77 hectares --
or less than one percent of its original size — according
to figures provided by Lu, Jensen and the local government.
Hunters, farmers, and watersports also threaten
Paoay Lake, another wild bird habitat in the far north of
the Philippines that is close to southern China.
The lake lacks surface plant life after the
late dictator Ferdinand Marcos ordered the water lilies removed
so he could jetski from his lakeside mansion, while a former
local official used to shoot ducks there, Lu said.
Since the water lily purge, water levels
have continued to drop as farmers siphoned off water to irrigate
farmland, while poor residents around the lake cut down trees,
which they burnt to sell as charcoal, local bird watchers
The government has banned hunting of ducks
on the lake, but things could still get worse with plans for
a wakeboarding park, Lu said.
In the annual Paoay bird census this month,
fewer than 700 waterbirds were counted compared with more
than a thousand the previous year, said Elsie Nolasco, an
official at the local environment ministry office.
The scenarios at the Paoay and Candaba wetlands
are a microcosm of the general state around Asia, said Carlo
Custodio, head of the coastal and marine management office
at the Philippines' environment ministry.
"If you look down the coasts from China,
South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and down
to Australia, you can see fast economic development, especially
in China," Custodio told AFP.
"In the course of this development,
habitats are destroyed as big segments of the populations
move to the coasts. This also increases the chances that the
birds will be hunted."
Environment group Wetlands International
reported last year that waterbird populations in Asia were
shrinking at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world
because their habitats were being destroyed.
"The combination of rapid economical
growth and weak conservation efforts (in Asia) appears to
be lethal," Wetlands International said.