Wisp of clouds kissing Cleopatra's needlepoint. Photo by Celeste Anna Formoso.

The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) is urging the creation of a critical habitat management plan for Cleopatra’s Needle that will be implemented by an organized group of environment managers by September 2020 to open the door for soft-impact eco-tourism activities.

This, after the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in partnership with PCSD and the Puerto Princesa City government, campaigned on Tuesday to improve the surrounding communities’ knowledge and appreciation of biodiversity assets and ecosystem goods and services in the critical habitat.

PCSD spokesperson Jovic Fabello said Wednesday that the city government, through City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) chief Atty. Carlo Gomez, is “very positive” in conceptualizing preservation and conservation plans for Cleopatra’s Needle, particularly because its eastern region is not part of the declared critical habitat and has “no layer of protection measure.”

“We primarily aim for it to be a living research laboratory for the local, regional, and national level. We also plan on opening it as a soft-impact eco-tourism site,” Fabello said, adding that, “For now, we don’t have an exact date when it will happen but we are targeting na mag-materialize muna ang management board by September 2020.”

Known as “Puyos” to indigenous peoples (IP), Cleopatra’s Needle is a biodiverse 41,350-hectare forest reserve declared as critical habitat in 2017. It is home to threatened endemic species, including the Palawan hornbill, pangolin, peacock-pheasant, flycatcher, bearcat, bearded pig and flying squirrel.

“The first step was declaring it as a critical habitat, which we did in 2017. Through the help of other concerned agencies, we were able to complete the boundary assessment and the corresponding census of the occupants and the IP settlers,” Fabello added.

The campaign led and expanded by the PCSD and the city government maximized the ongoing efforts to protect and conserve Cleopatra’s Needle, which is penciled to be completed before the USAID Protect Wildlife partnership expires in September.