A study to identify the population strongholds of the critically endangered Palawan pangolin (Manis culionensis) will be done by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) in a bid to declare them as critical habitats of the wildlife species.
Levita Lagrada, a zoologist with the PCSD Staff (PCSDS), said the establishment of critical habitats for pangolins would help the entire conservation community to focus all the protection efforts on these specific areas.
“We have to conduct studies to identify their population strongholds or the areas for protection,” she told Palawan News on Thursday.
The Palawan pangolin is one of eight members of the pangolin family, which are indigenous to Africa and Asia. Also known as Philippine pangolin, they have the smallest range of any pangolin species, only inhabiting the Palawan group of islands.
In Palawan, the multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary science body PCSD is mandated to implement the Philippine Wildlife Act, which requires the establishment of critical habitats to ensure the sustainability of various threatened species.
“Once declared as critical habitats, there will be a management body that will oversee the execution of management plan over those areas,” she said.
Initially, she said the PCSD and USAID-funded Protect Wildlife project would undertake a study sometime this May or June to identify the population distribution of pangolins across the province.
“From its output, we could already tell where the priority areas for protection are,” she said.
Lagrada said designating these irreplaceable places as such means they could be spared from illegal acts that drive habitat degradation and species loss.
“Those who will do the prohibited acts inside these critical habitats can be held liable,” she added.
Under the Philippine Wildlife Act, punishable human activities destroying critical habitats include illegal occupation, logging, forest conversion to agriculture, and mineral exploration and extraction.
The establishment of critical habitats is part of the 25-year strategy designed to safeguard the future of the species.
Working alongside with indigenous groups and key law enforcement agencies, experts from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) Philippines, PCSD, International Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) Pangolin Specialist Group and Katala Foundation Inc. designed this roadmap at a workshop held last week in Puerto Princesa City.
“The strategy we’ve come up with provides us with a roadmap to ensure the Palawan pangolin does not join the list of species to have disappeared from the planet,” said ZSL Philippines Country Manager Godofredo Villapando in a statement.
Poaching, population decline
Palawan pangolin’s populations are thought to have declined by more than 50 percent over the past 20 years, the conservation community said.
Like all pangolin species, Palawan pangolins are under severe pressure from poaching for their scales and meat, which are trafficked to other parts of the Philippines and East Asia, and consumed locally as food or medicine.
Worldwide, more than one million pangolins are believed to have been snatched from the wild in the past decade alone.
These animals were recently up-listed to the highest category of protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), making all commercial trade of wild-caught pangolins and their parts illegal.
Besides strengthening law enforcement to prevent poaching and trafficking, Lagrada said also part of the strategy is engagement with communities to increase local stewardship and protection efforts.
“We have to train the communities so they can help in wildlife law enforcement,” she added.
To ensure the ongoing survival of Palawan’s pangolin populations, Lagrada said the strategy also calls for public-private partnership. She said private entities can engage in conservation financing where investments are channeled to species conservation efforts.