PBCFI’s plans to reintroduce extirpated species in rehabilitated habitats are administered in close association with our Species Conservation Programmes and conservation breeding centre activities. For conservation, merely keeping endangered species alive in captivity but allowing them to go extinct in the wild is only half the job done. To fulfill our vision of ensuring the long term survival of species and protection of their natural habitats, we aim to release captive-bred animals into their former distribution ranges and to help them establish self-sustaining populations in the wild.
Reintroduction projects are highly complex. They require as much cooperation among stakeholders as technical expertise. For the latter, a successful breeding programme making available robust founder breeding populations is a prerequisite. Structured protocols also have to be developed for aspects such as animal transport, pre-release management and post-release monitoring. Scientific expertise is also critical for habitat assessment during site selection. Stakeholder involvement is the other major factor determining the long-term success of reintroductions. Agreements and management plans/policies have to be made among private land owners, Local Government Units (LGUs), Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), local communities, etc. Reintroduction projects are thus one of the most effective ways in which local support can be gathered and sustained for forest conservation.
Our ongoing pilot reintroduction project for the Philippine Spotted Deer and Visayan Tarictic Hornbill on Sicogon Island highlights the multi-pronged approach we take to ensure the successful establishment and survival of released populations. This project serves as a precursor to future reintroductions projects under the West Visayan Threatened Endemic Species’ Reintroduction Programme, and can hopefully be extended to the other regions.
Sicogon Island Reintroduction Project
Several exploratory (fact-finding) missions to various possible future reintroduction sites on Panay, Negros and Cebu Islands have been conducted. All sites visited were identified by key representatives of the PBCFI, in collaboration with senior personnel from the three local breeding centres and other local environmental agencies, including senior officers of DENR Regions VI & VII. Survey work also included meetings with numerous private land-owners and other relevant stakeholders (LGUs, NGOs, POs), consultations with experienced local field researchers and literature searches. The findings and recommendations of various field studies/surveys dating back to the early 1990’s were also taken into account, as were the findings of the two, specially commissioned, island-wide ethnobiological (hunter interview) surveys conducted in Panay in 2004 and Negros in 2003-05, the Cebu island-wide biodiversity survey conducted in 1998/9, and a preliminary study of potential future spotted deer reintroduction sites conducted in 1999.
Of the sites that were visited, Sicogon Island is considered to be the most promising site for the reintroduction (i.e. trial releases) of at least two species, Visayan spotted deer and Visayan tarictic hornbills, for the following reasons:
- The area still supports a substantive tract of mature native lowland forest and other habitats and likely resources (e.g. abundant surface water in the form of numerous streams);
- The majority of the island is privately-owned and has benefited from strong levels of forest protection and incidents of both timber and wildlife poaching have evidently been reduced to comparatively low levels.
- The island is both readily accessible (via local ferry services to/from the neighbouring township of Carles, though the island boasts a runway suitable for light aircraft); and is therefore also ideally suited for controlled ecotourism and other development plans;
- The island suffers from no local personnel security concerns;
- The land-owners, all relevant LGUs, local communities and other stakeholders have already signified their strong interest and support for the proposed trial release/reintroduction of the aforementioned species and associated activities;
- The opportunity to develop and implement a wide-range of important and practical conservation interventions in a area of evident critical importance to biodiversity conservation interests in this (global priority) region, and to do so by ways and means that will hopefully also: enhance the overall and longer-term survival prospects of various, severely threatened endemic species (whether existing or reintroduced); facilitate transfer of salient technologies, specialist expertise and best-practice experience in several key areas; vi) be strongly collaborative and multi-sectoral; and accrue diverse additional (socio-economic, educational and recreational) benefits to the island’s existing communities and other stakeholders, including local and international eco-tourism interests.
Following initial consultations with relevant officials in DENR Region IV, and subsequent preliminary site visits by senior representatives of the PBCFI-PBCP and Mari-it Conservation Park, two separate expeditions were organised, and salient expert consultants recruited, to conduct the pre-release requisite site assessments and other preliminary activities per DENR requirements; i) biodiversity and GIS habitat mapping surveys; ii) local community ethnobiological/socio-economic/attitude surveys information/awareness campaigns; iii) education/awareness (IEC) campaigns; and iv) local community public hearings. Of these, items i), ii) and iii) were conducted during a multidisciplinary field/site survey (i.e. faunal and floral, mapping and ethnobiological surveys, and preliminary education/awareness campaign) conducted in May 2006 by a highly experienced specialist team assembled from several local PBCP partner agencies (Pedregosa, et. al., 2006; Lorica and Lastica, 2006) whilst the public hearings in all three local barangays and other LGU consultations were conducted in December 2007, by a smaller team led by Atty, Rolly Pedrina of The Antique Outdoors. A workshop was organized by PBCFI/DENR/WVSU for all relevant stakeholders in May 2011. In 2013, suitable individuals were selected and preparations started for a structured ‘soft release’ strategy, involving the training of the animals to wild conditions (natural diet, anti-predator behavior etc.), at the Mari-it Wildlife Conservation Park.