Visayan Spotted Deer Conservation Programme
The Philippine, Visayan or Prince Alfred’s spotted deer (Rusa alfredi)* is one of the most beautiful and one of the most endangered deer in the world. Prior to the initiation of this conservation programme in 1985, it was also one of the least known of all deer species, having been generally overlooked as a regional variant of the widely distributed and far more abundant Rusa marrianna* as separate, endemic and highly distinct species.
Status Survey and Development of New Protected Areas
This recognition also awakened interest in the species’ conservation status and prompted organization of a distribution-wide status survey of the deer and the closely associated Visayan Warty Pig (Sus cebifrons) in 1985 and 1987. It revealed that the species was already extinct over at least 95% of its former range, including all of Cebu and Guimaras, and their likely extinction (or ‘functional’ extinction) on Masbate, and was unlikely to survive in the few remaining forest fragments on Panay and Negros unless urgent was taken to enhance protection of these areas and curb hunting pressure.
These findings resulted in the formulation of recommendations to establish a new national park in Panay and to set up a properly structured collaborative breeding programme as an insurance against the species’ extinction in the wild state. In 1987, funding assistance from the Zoologischer Garten Berlin enabled the first faunal survey of the Panay Mountains and the preparation of a preliminary management for the proposed new Panay Mountains National Park.
More research needs to be done to review the current status of this deer on Masbate, and to determine the systematic variation amongst surviving populations on Negros and Panay.
Efforts to establish the proposed breeding programme were not realised until 1990, when the first MOA was signed and two local rescue and breeding centres for this species were set-up, one each on Negros and Panay, formally inaugurating the Philippine Spotted Deer Conservation Programme (PSDCP).
‘Wildlife rescue breeding centres’ were set up as per the recommendations of the status surveys. Two were established in Negros and one in Panay; i.e. the Centre for Studies in Tropical Conservation (SU-Centrop) at Silliman University (Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental), which was established in 1990; the Biodiversity Conservation Centre at the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation Inc (NFEFI-BCC, Bacolod City, Negros Occidental), established in 1992; and the Mari-it Wildlife Conservation Park, College of Agriculture & Forestry, West Visayas State University (WVSU-CAF; Lambunao, Iloilo, Panay). These three centres were all established in close collaboration with a suite of international partner institutions (i.e. zoos and zoological societies in Europe, USA and Australia), and under the auspices of formal Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs) with the Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR, Government of the Philippines). The international partner agencies also provided (and continue to provide) most of the requisite capital development and operational costs (coupled with diverse other ‘in kind’ and technical support), which is mostly coursed through (and coordinated by) Fauna & Flora International’s ‘Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Programme’ (FFI-PBCP); the latter also playing an important role in the formulation of covering agreements, and design and development of related program activities, and creation and continued development of the local and international partnership networks.
West Visayan Threatened Endemic Species Reintroduction Programme
PBCFI has identified the Philippine Spotted Deer and the Visayan Tarictic Hornbill as subjects for a pilot reintroduction project on Sicogon Island. We are working to develop and implement relevant conservation management at the targeted sites. Aside from these project sites, effort will be made to facilitate enhanced protection of existing Protected Areas, as well as to establish further Local Conservation Areas. Campaigns will also be held to raise local awareness and continued support will be given to the breeding centres. PBCFI aims to extend this flagship programme to other threatened Visayan endemic species in future.
*Following reviews of the systematic relationships and phylogeny of S. E. Asian deer by Meijaard and Groves (2004) and Pitra et al. (2004), both Cervus alfredi and the closely related, Philippine brown deer, C. mariannus, were reallocated to the Genus Rusa; R. alfredi and R. marrianna. A similarly recent review of the current conservation status of R. alfredi , also unfortunately necessitated it being reclassified from IUCN ‘Endangered’ to ‘Critically Endangered’ (Schipper et al.; in press).