After a successful visit to the future site of the Cleopatra’s Needle Forest Reserve on Palawan Island, Rainforest Trust’s Conservation Officer Robin Moore reports that partner organizations are laying necessary groundwork for the reserve’s creation.
The proposed 80,000 acre reserve, adjacent to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, is a major biodiversity hotspot. In total, 31 endangered and threatened species–including key populations of the Palawan horned frog, Philippine flat-headed frog, and Philippine cockatoo–have been identified at the site. Despite their spectacular biodiversity, forests in the Philippines have been dramatically reduced by logging, mining, and land conversion over the past 50 years. More than half of Palawan’s forests, however, remain intact.
To create the Cleopatra’s Needle Forest Reserve and protect Palawan’s remaining forests, Rainforest Trust has partnered with several local conservation organizations and communities. Moore was able to visit with these groups during his visit.
The Centre for Sustainability is a local conservation organization dedicated to preserving Palawan’s biodiversity. “The Center for Sustainability is a small but very energetic and motivated team. Their first project here in Palawan–a grouper hatchery–is very impressive and demonstrates what they are capable of. They are well placed to succeed,” said Moore. Due to a lack of previous scientific research in the area, the Centre for Sustainability is organizing a month-long study in August with 15 experts representing different taxonomic groups. Moore believes that the project could potentially result in the discovery of new species and increase the area’s conservation value even more.
Moore also met with officials from the City of Puerta Princesa, a key partner in the project. Working with the Centre for Sustainability, the City of Puerta Princesa will establish the reserve by declaration and enforce its protection. “The officials I met with reiterated their support for the project and seemed genuinely excited by the potential for this to be a flagship project for Palawan,” he said.
Moore later met with representatives of the Katala Foundation, another local conservation organization. He confirmed that they will lend their support to the project by engaging local people in the conservation of key species such as the Palawan forest turtle and Philippine cockatoo.
He also visited the proposed project site, hiking, and spending the night there. “The area is really beautiful. In only a day we saw several hornbills, and more than 10 species of amphibians, including the endangered horned frogs and vulnerable flat-headed frogs, which live only in clear, pristine streams,” he said. While at the project site, he had a chance to meet with members of the Batak tribe, including the chief. The Batak livelihood is heavily dependent on the local environment; the tribe sustainably harvests and sells a variety of forest products including tree resins and honey. “The Batak appear to be very engaged with the project and supportive of it. The area really is their last stronghold,” he said. Once nomadic, the Batak have been forced by the Philippine Government to establish a small village in the forest. The last 200 members of the tribe now live in the forests of Cleopatra’s Needle.