Photo courtesy of Indira Widmann/PCCP Katala Foundation, Inc.

Ten Philippine cockatoo hatchlings were successfully banded this month by the Katala Foundation, Inc. (KFI) from the lowland forests that are within the jurisdiction of the Iwahig Corrections Facility (ICF).

They were the first hatchlings to be marked with leg bands from this year’s breeding season, said Indira Widmann, program director of the Philippine Cockatoo Conservation Program (PCCP) of the KFI.

The leg bands were put on the Philippine cockatoos (Cacatua haematuropygia) to identify their place of origin and other important information.

Widmann said despite the challenge in the monitoring of the critically-endangered bird due to COVID-19, they are still able to come out of the breeding season.

“This year’s breeding season of the cockatoos is challenging because the efforts to monitor their growth from eggs to fledglings were hampered by the quarantine measures. But most critical is the fact that lowland forests in Puerto Princesa are persistently looted by extensive and unabated slash and burn farming practice,” she said on a social media post on May 22.

Widmann said their team, through the help of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) Staff Enforcement Division, CENRO Puerto Princesa, and the ICF, was able to pursue nest and habitat monitoring in the midst of the quarantine weeks.

Along with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the composite team, Widmann also said vast lowland areas in Sta. Lucia and Luzviminda within the ICF national reservation were found stripped of their vegetation illegally.

She said while most environmental frontliners were observing quarantine protocols, unscrupulous individuals were burning natural habitats to ashes.


Photo courtesy of Indira Widmann/PCCP Katala Foundation, Inc.

ICF superintendent Raul Levita, on the other hand, said it was his first time to see a cockatoo in the wild. The experience of putting leg bands on the birds was awe-inspiring to him.

“We are bothered that forests and timberland are slaughtered in our eyes despite the very fact that we know the benefits of keeping them. My experience joining the Katala team to put leg bands on new cockatoo hatchlings was awe-inspiring and puts into context that humans are not the only ones benefiting from conserving forests but wildlife as well. It was like holding your own baby and this should have been how we should take care of our forests, like our very own homes,” he said.

Puerto Princesa, particularly the IPPF lowland forests, holds the third most important wild population of this critically endangered species.

Philippine cockatoos breed in the lowland forests and forage extensively, including crossing the Puerto bay to enjoy the last stands of coastal forests, fruiting food-providing plants, and Malunggay trees within the city proper, Widmann said.

She said KFI continues to monitor its dispersal with the help of locals who contribute their sightings to the database.

Meanwhile, Brian Ong who works as a research assistant under the PCCP said it was a privilege to work with the foundation that takes care of the critically endangered katala.

“To be able to monitor this beautiful bird and finally hold them, check their health and get the biometrics is a privilege and I am so lucky to have worked for the Katala and I wish people understand why we all need to share a place to live,” Ong said.

Widmann said the effort would not have been made possible without the commitment of their sponsors and donors that have generously sustained their support despite being similarly affected by the COVID crisis – ZGAP, Chester Zoo, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, LPF, Beauval, Cockatoo Downs, Landau, and individual donors.

PCCP is a pilot conservation program of the Katala Foundation Inc. together with the DENR and the PCSDS.