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Slaughter of the birds

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 Mindoro)."

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 [40] 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: http://www.thepetitionsite/I/revolting-local-bird-massacrewebsite.

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."