The field study that would pave the way for the next step in the conservation of the endemic Palawan pangolin (Manis culionensis) is nearing completion, said a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature-Special Species Commission (IUCN-SSC) Group.
Dr. Sabine Schoppe, who is also the director of the Palawan Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program (PFTCP) of the Katala Foundation, Inc. (KFI) and the director of the Palawan Pangolin Conservation Program (PPCP), said they will be ready to submit the results of their field study to the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) end of this year so it could plan the next phase in the conservation initiative.
KFI was hired to conduct fieldwork such as camera trapping, and actual search of the critically endangered pangolin (also known as balintong) in southern Palawan.
This update was shared by Schoppe following the commemoration of the World Pangolin Day on February 16, 2019, which helps raise the awareness on the plight of pangolins.
She said the results of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-supported field study under the Protect Wildlife Project will be useful in terms of distribution and population size estimation of the Palawan pangolin, monitoring data compilation which can be used on a long-term basis, come up with conservation measures, behavior of the wildlife in the natural environment, identification of threats, and identification of strongholds.
However, she said the results are just initial and “probably not enough” to be able to declare the “possible strongholds as critical habitats” as this will involve the close collaboration of local communities and indigenous people.
“It’s really, really too early [to identify strongholds]. We have finished five sites, we are currently in the sixth site… the only thing I could tell you is if you compare the density… ibig sabihin the number of individuals per unit area… there is a higher density in the north and it is going down via Puerto [Princesa City] and lesser in the south,” she said.
She said even with this from their study, “lesser” does not mean pangolins are overexploited or the site where they are is not the right one.
“We just know mas madami sila sa north… so for example in the north, we have 3.8 average ‘yan kasi by the sites, di ba? So, 3.8 adult individuals per 100 hectares. In the north, we have three sites… so, it’s an average. For example, if there are four in one site and three in the other sites, add the four and the three and divided by two and you have an average,” she said.
Based on her opinion, she said the possibility of declaring sites as critical habitats of the pangolin is not yet possible because their study is part of the initial activities to generate “baseline data”.
Schoppe said it is up to the PCSD how it will use the baseline data that they will submit, but this is not guarantee that critical habitats can already be declared.
One of the important things that can be said, Schoppe pointed out, is that if they get “the numbers for several sites” they can eventually relay that so they can be relieved from hunting pressures.
“The study goes hand-in-hand with the study on the local knowledge so, what’s important is… there’s a group hired from Palawan State University (PSU) and they did interviews, and based on that we hope to find information on exploitation, local knowledge of the people because if we only have the number, we would not know why,” she explained.
She said the interviews have been completed but a report has yet to be made regarding the activity.
The actual pangolin search will be completed in July and the camera trapping will be in September.
“We are due to report by the end of this year. December dapat may final results na,” she said, adding after the end of the year, it will be the PCSD that needs to make the decision regarding the next phase.
She said the importance of the pangolins should not only be highlighted during World Pangolin Day because they are important “soil caretakers” and “natural pest controllers.”
“Hindi ba they eat ants and termites? Di ba ang Palawan maraming termites that destroy homes? They are important because one pangolin can actually consume 20,000 termites and ants in one day. They are natural pest controllers and are soil caretakers and they do that simply by their daily behavior,” Schoppe said.
PCSD Staff spokesperson Jovic Fabello said the declaration of the Palawan pangolin critical habitats will depend on the recommendation of Schoppe’s group.
He said declaring a stronghold as such would be easy but a lot of considerations will have to be assessed and evaluated, such as the locals living near them.
“Naka-depende kami sa resulta ng study ng Katala Foundation, Inc. dito kasi sila ang kinontrata para gawin ang field study. ‘Yon ang hinihintay namin,” he said.
Fabello said it is important that Palaweños are aware of the importance of the pangolin in keeping the balance in the ecology so they can help in preventing the wildlife species’ trafficking.
Meanwhile, USAID Protect Wildlife communications manager Lawrence San Diego said the result of the field study which will be submitted in December can be used by other groups and local universities to pursue other Palawan pangolin studies.
“We are hoping other groups, especially local universities will be encouraged to pursue further studies on the Palawan pangolin. Once finished, the USAID-backed study can be a useful reference for these groups in conducting their own studies,” San Diego said.