Rafe Brown, an evolutionary biologist and associate professor at the University of Kansas who was part of the expedition team, attributes the amazing yet unexpected rediscovery of the Malatgan River caecilian to simply being in the right place at the right time, the report said.
“One of the students happened to be walking by it and thought it was a worm,” recalls Brown, whose team had found the legless amphibian in an area known as Cleopatra’s Needle. “But lo and behold, it was a Malatgan River caecilian.”
The Philippines’ ‘Last Ecological Frontier’
A perennial attraction for tourists and researchers alike, Palawan is known to many as “The Last Ecological Frontier of the Philippines” due to its rich biodiversity. The Palawan Game Refuge and Bird Sanctuary was named the fourth most irreplaceable area in the world for species conservation in a report published in 2013 by the international publication Science.
The expedition, which was launched in December 2014 and facilitated by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, Global Wildlife Conservation, the Amphibian Survival Alliance, and Rainforest Trust, was organized as part of a larger initiative to establish a new reserve in the region, known as the Cleopatra’s Needle Protected Area. The new reserve will cover about 40,000 hectares of forest, effectively serving to protect the diverse species of wildlife that reside within them.
According to UNESCO, Palawan serves as a 1,150,800-hectare sanctuary for 379 species of corals, 13 species of seagrass, and 31 species of mangrove, as well as numerous endemic species of freshwater fish (18), amphibians (26), and terrestrial mammals (16).
Rich grounds for rediscovery
Prior to the expedition, the Malatgan River caecilian was thought to have fallen prey to extinction for half a century; the Palawan toadlet, on the other hand, was last sighted 40 years ago. Furthermore, the records of these “extinct” amphibians were destroyed when the museum they were housed in became a casualty of the Battle of Manila during the Second World War.
“For me, it’s incredible to find these two amphibians after not seeing them for decades,” according to Robin Moore, a conservation officer from the Amphibian Survival Alliance. “It highlights how much is out there that we don’t know.”
Despite the fact that certain parts of Palawan have already been developed for commercial purposes, on the whole, the region remains “relatively underdeveloped,” making it quite possible for more previously “extinct”—or perhaps, even unknown—species to be discovered by future explorers.
Moore believes that these new discoveries are further proof that a need truly exists for conservation projects such as this one, especially for protecting species on the brink of extinction and preserving areas that in danger of being obliterated, whether due to natural causes or by man’s own hand.