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Conservation efforts of Philippine deer in Catanduanes get boost

LEGAZPI CITY—Efforts to prevent the total extinction of native wildlife species that are genetically diverse, such as the Philippine deer, have been shaping up.

Philippine deer found on the outskirts of Davao, photographed by Gregg Yan (Wikimedia Commons)
The National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), according to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), has started a process towards the formulation of policy recommendations for animal genetic resource conservation and guidelines on cryobanking in the Philippines.

NAST, an attached agency of the DOST, serves as an advisory body to the Philippine President on policies concerning science and technology (S&T).

The academy’s ongoing effort when completed, the DOST regional office for Bicol here said on Tuesday, will boost up initiatives toward the conservation of the Philippine deer, one of the numerous rare and endangered wildlife species that exist in the jungles of Catanduanes, the largest remaining forest block in the whole of Bicol.

This species is endemic to the Philippines and exists in Bicol only in Catanduanes and through Polillo Island, Mindoro, Samar, Leyte, Basilan and Marinduque.

It thrives within the substantial dipterocarp-type woodland of Catanduanes covering about 69,770 hectares, of which, unfortunately, only 26,010 hectares are considered protected area being covered by the Catanduanes Watershed Forest Reserve (CWFR) established in 1987.

Outside this protected area, ugly stories of timber poaching, logging and other misuses are told prevalent—prompting the regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) based here to seek an expansion of the CWFR to make it nearly 50,000 hectares under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS).

The establishment of NIPAS is mandated under Republic Act No. 7586 or the NIPAS Act of 1992.

To qualify, a candidate should encompass outstanding remarkable areas and biologically important public lands that are habitats of rare and endangered species of plants and animals, biogeographic zones and related ecosystems that would be designated as “protected areas”.

Besides being source of water that supports domestic and agricultural uses of the 10 municipalities it covers, the CWFR is host to important plant and animal species that form its rich flora and fauna.

Distribution of Philippine deer within Catanduanes forest is highly fragmented even as it was undoubtedly more extensively distributed in the past, the DENR said.

A study said enforcement of existing regulations and protected area management is inadequate and requires strengthening, making some sub-populations or subspecies severely threatened and may need to be considered individually for management purposes.

Captive breeding of this species was advocated by the DENR’s Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB) as a means of supporting rural communities.

However, the same study says it is most unlikely that these initiatives might ever mitigate threats to any wild populations, as originally supposed, partly because of the increased demand for wild-caught founder breeding stocks.

More importantly, it is virtually inconceivable that the commensurate establishment of legal markets in locally produced venison would not be widely abused for the continued sale of illegally-caught specimens, especially given the ineffective enforcement of existing protective legislation pertaining to these and other commercially valuable species, it added.

In a recent roundtable discussion organized by the NAST which tackled “Animal Genetic Resource Management and Cryobanking,” experts suggested that native wildlife species which are genetically diverse such as Philippine deer should be considered for cryo-conservation or the process of preserving cells by subjecting them to very low temperatures.

Tamaraw, which is also endemic in the Philippines -- particularly in Mindoro, is another endangered species being considered into this process, a NAST statement released by the DOST’s S&T Media Service said.

In the same gathering, the statement said Dr. Lerma Ocampo, senior science research specialist at the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC), said Philippine deer and tamaraw as well as small ruminants like goat are believed to be disease-resistant, survive climate change and thrive in local feed resources around them.

Water buffalo or carabao, cattle and goat are currently being used for cryo-conservation activities in the Philippines with a facility located inside the PCC Complex in Nueva Ecija.

According to Ocampo, countries have been prompted to draw up an Animal Genetic Resources Conservation program to help ensure the continuous availability of food for their citizens due to population growth, urbanization, and weather disturbances which could eliminate animal populations at any given time.

However, problems involving local ordinances, among others, have hindered the inclusion of these wildlife species into the Philippines’ cryo-conservation initiatives.

Cryobanking capitalizes on cryo-preservation technologies such as conventional slow freezing techniques, vitrification or quick-freezing technology for egg cells and embryos and liquid nitrogen storage.

Established in 2012, the Nueva Ecija cryobank facility for livestock and endangered indigenous animals stores locally processed semen from various breeds of water buffalo, goats, and cattle.

Semen production labs like the Nueva Ecija stock farm and the PCC at the Central Luzon State University and University of the Philippines-Los Baños serve as the repository and source of frozen sperm from commercially active livestock. (by Danny O. Calleja, PNA)

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