Figure 1. The Negros Bleeding-heart.
Aside from the elusive Negros Fruit dove (Ptilinopus arcanus), which has not been sighted since its first discovery in 1953, another species bearing the name Negros on its common name is a facing severe threat of extinction in the wild, and this is the Negros Bleeding-heart (Gallicolumba keayi). This beautiful and colorful species is already included in the list of globally threatened species classified as critically endangered, which means its population and distribution are getting limited and it is already highly susceptible to extinction. Before its discovery in Panay in 1997, the Negros Bleeding-heart was only known to exist in Negros Island and nowhere else in the world.
There are at least five species of bleeding-heart pigeons in the Philippines and these are all island endemics and declared as threatened species. The Luzon Bleeding-heart (Gallicolumba luzonica) is classified as near threatened while the Mindanao Bleeding-heart (Gallicolumba criniger) falls under the endangered category. Just like the Negros Bleeding-heart, the Mindoro Bleeding-heart (Gallicolumba platenae) and the Sulu Bleeding-heart (Gallicolumba menagei) are listed as critically endangered. It should be noted that those declared as highly threatened are found in islands with limited landmass unlike the mainland of Luzon and Mindanao.
The Negros Bleeding-heart was identified and known as early as in 1877. According to a BirdLife International report, the discovery of this species was somewhat unusual because its discoverer, a certain W.E. Keayi who owned a sugarcane estate in eastern Negros, had known it already for 20 years and had on several occasions kept examples in cages as pets, unaware that it was new to science. The scientific name of the Negros Bleeding-heart carries the name of Keayi in honor for his discovery of this Philippines’ valuable species.
Early in 1900s, this species was found to be abundant and widespread in many parts of both the provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental because the forests then were still extensive. As the 1900s came to a close and the forests became increasingly depleted, however, the species became extremely rare and currently only a handful of records had been noted in the remaining forests of Negros Island.
Figure 2. Decline of forest cover on Negros Island over the years.
The decline of the Negros Bleeding-heart’s population is mainly attributed to habitat destruction because it is a noted lowland specialist suspected to inhabit at 300 to 1,200 meters above sea level, according to Birdlife International. And to think that Negros Island has only very limited forests left with its lowland forests almost gone, it is not surprising that the Negros Bleeding-heart is indeed in a highly critical situation. The report of BirdLife claimed that it is unlikely that the species has more than a few hundred individuals left both in Negros and Panay and probably has only a few tens of this species is surviving in the wild.Although there is no available comprehensive study on the ecology of the Negros Bleeding-heart, previous studies reveal that all bleeding hearts are birds of the forest floor and they only fly up to the trees to roost, take cover and breed. It is suspected that the Negros Bleeding-heart’s ideal habitat is the forest floor of the lowland closed canopy forest, which is getting rare in Negros. This also makes the bird also prone to hunting and trapping.
Three protected areas in Negros have been identified as the remaining important habitats of the species: Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, North Negros Natural Park and Twin Lakes Natural Park. The protection of the remaining forests in these areas is indeed of paramount importance to ensure the survival of the Negros Bleeding-heart. It is unfortunate that Negros is becoming an island of threatened species and we just hope that political leaders would make habitat protection and rehabilitation a priority area in terms of governance.
[Photo by Eberhard Curio/PESCP; Map by Don De Alban]