Back into the Wild
West Visayas Species Reintroduction Project
In the 1900s, rainforests covered roughly 70% of the Philippines. By 1997, rampant deforestation had left only 7% still in existence. This destruction of natural habitat has had a massive impact on local wildlife, and while the remaining patches of rainforest are now protected national parks, poverty, a lack of education, poor law enforcement, corruption, and apathy mean that they are still threatened by unlicenced logging and the illegal wildlife trade.
Among the most endangered animals in the world are five species that are native to West Visayas in the Philippines, namely Walden’s hornbill, Negros bleeding-heart pigeon, the Visayan warty pig, the Visayan spotted deer, and the Visayan tarictic hornbill. As such, in an effort to provide long-term protection to Philippine wildlife, specifically in the West Visayas region, the Talarak Foundation Inc. (TFI) was established in 2010 and is active in conserving local species through various captive breeding and reintroduction programmes. The abovementioned five species have been the focus of a three-year project funded by OPCFHK, which aimed at managing healthy and self-sustaining populations of these endangered animals and creating an environment in which they can be reintroduced back into the wild.
Having begun in 2019, the project first looked to identify suitable reintroduction sites, which included the presence of the target species itself as well as any potential threats. Then, an initial group of individuals was released in a soft-release enclosure, where they could be monitored on a twice-daily basis in terms of their health, movement, and behavior by both staff and veterinarians. From this, the researchers were able to assess the animals’ suitability for release into the wider environment, and further reintroduction of more individuals was based on the continued observation of the initial group. Once released into the wider environment, monitoring was done by GPS and VHF collars, as well as through 20 camera traps set up across 300 ha of the reserve. Throughout the entire process, the project team engaged local communities around the site in order to encourage participation and ensure the safety of the animals being released.
In all, 28 Visayan spotted deer were reintroduced, along with 19 Visayan warty pigs, and 4 Visayan tarictic hornbills. At the same time, over 25,000 saplings of native fruiting and nesting trees were planted in an effort to improve habitat quality. It was also crucial to involve local communities at all levels of the project. To that end, an outreach and education team was set up to conduct surveys and run awareness meetings in the surrounding villages, in which the subject of poaching was a particular focus. Not only that, 15 locals were hired as either animal keepers, educators, construction workers, or research assistants.
The West Visayas project was successful in reintroducing species that are on the brink of extinction back into a safe natural environment. It is fervently hoped that this will be the start of re-establishing native species back into their local ranges and be the inspiration more such projects across the region.
The above is just one of the many ways that OPCFHK works to save wildlife and natural habitats. Please feel free to donate in support of other important projects in Hong Kong and across Asia.
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