How Pilareneos saved endangered wildlife

In an isolated lowland forest in the town of Pilar in Western Visayas survives a large bird that sounds like a bleating goat. This is the Rufous-headed hornbill (also called Walden's Hornbill), the second most critically endangered hornbill in the world. It is only known to occur in the lowland forests on the islands of Panay and Negros and nowhere else in the world.
Male Rufous-headed Hornbill. Photo by Lorenzo Vinciguerra.
"Tirik na indi tirik" (a hornbill but not the Visayan tarictic hornbill) exclaimed the surprised Jinky Vergara, the president of the farmer's cooperative that manages the 667-hectare watershed in Pilar. It was his first time to see the "dulungan" or Rufous-headed hornbill. As he excitedly described the bird's color and sounds back in camp, his Tatay Isot's eyes sparked with joy as he proudly shared his encounters of the bird in the early 1980's.

A forest protected by the local communities

Tatay Isot scanned the mountains and occasionally pointed to the tall trees that breaks from the canopy. He strongly believes that the protection of the forest secures the main source of clean freshwater for drinking, agriculture and domestic use of the village. As the forest matures, the creeks and streams slowly releases clean water even during the driest months of the year. With a note of seriousness he said, "Indi ko ma-isip pila ka beses taklad dre sa bukid para lang mapunggan and pamutol sang kahoy. Indi magsugot si Kapitana utdon kag labtan ang lasang" (I can't count how many times I have climbed the mountains just to stop illegal cutting of trees. Kapitana will not allow tree cutting and harm to the forest). He was referring to the president of the Association of Barangay Captains Vilma Alfaro who also happens to be the founding president and currently secretary of the farmers association.
In the late 1980's, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) initiated the Integrated Social Forestry (ISF project) that benefitted a number of families in Pilar. In the 1990's, the ISF beneficiaries were later organized to form the Samahang Magbubukid ng Tabun-acan Pilar Capiz Association Inc. (SMTPCAI) and awarded with a Community-based Forest Management Agreement (CBFMA) tenurial instrument to manage the 667 hectares of forestland for 25 years and renewable for another 25 years.
Part of the mountain range in Pilar that serves as the watershed of the surrounding towns and barangays. Photo by Shiella Mae Olimpos.

Global biodiversity importance

The islands of Panay, Negros, Guimaras, Cebu, Masbate and Ticao (also called Western Visayas faunal region) is home to the world's most threatened wildlife that is endemic only to this group of islands. Despite the high numbers of threatened endemic wildlife, Panay is among the poorly studied island in the Philippines. In 5-12 May 2021, the Capiz Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (CAPENRO) led the biological assessment of the watershed of Pilar together with the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO) of Pilar, Capiz State University (CSU), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Region VI, Samahan ng mga Magbubukid ng Tabun-acan Pilar Capiz Association Inc., Barangays Yating and Tabun-acan and the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (PhilBio). The 8-day fieldwork established the baseline information and trained the local partners in community-based biodiversity monitoring.
When asked about the importance of doing baseline studies, here's what Dr. Harold Ortiz – Director of Capiz Ecology and Conservation Center in Capiz State University has to say: "We are running out of time. These vital resources are fragile and the lives of the locals are dependent on these ecosystems. Hardcore scientific data is badly needed because we cannot save something we don't know about."

Next Steps

A meeting with Capiz Governor Esteban Evan B. Contreras, Capiz Provincial Administrator Dr. Edwin Chinel Monares, CAPENRO Atty. Emmelyn "Abeb" Arboleda-Depon, Dr. Harold Ortiz of Cadiz State University and the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. team right after the survey, discussed the significant findings and the next steps needed to address the different biodiversity concerns and issues.
Capiz Flora and Fauna Assessment Team – a multi-stakeholder team led by the Capiz Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (CAPENRO) Atty. Abeb Arboleda – Depon in partnership with DENR Region VI, Samahang Magbubukid sa Tabun-acan Pilar Capiz Association Inc., Capiz State University (Dr. Harold Ortiz), MENRO – Pilar, Municipal Disaster Risk and Reduction Office – Pilar, Barangays Yating and Tabun-acan and the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (PhilBio).

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