Just the other day, online news sources reported that a new species of fruit bat was discovered from the lowland forests of Mt. Siburan in Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental. According to Protected Areas and Wildlife Director Mundita Lim, the Mindoro Stripe-Faced Fruitbat (Styloctenium mindorensis)–another species endemic to the Philippines and the island of Mindoro, much like the Tamaraw–raises the total bat species in the country to 74, of which 26 are found only in the Philippine Islands.
Not three months ago, a team of biologists from Conservation International-Philippines went on an expedition to Mt. Mantalingahan in Southern Palawan. There, they similarly discovered new species of animals and plants, including a shrew; a terrestrial orchid; and a parrot finch; as well as the rediscovery of the Palawan soft-furred mountain rat. All of these are highly likely to be endemic to the island of Palawan. You may find out more about the wildlife discoveries from a press release by CI-Phils posted previously on this blog here.
And then, in the summer of last year, I remember reading about the discovery of two new species: the Camiguin hanging-parrot and the Philippine forest mouse, both in the small island of Camiguin off the coast of northern Mindanao. There could probably be others more that may have been discovered just in the last five years, which I may have failed to mention here.
Dr. Lawrence Heaney, who co-authored the book Vanishing Tresaures of the Philippine Rainforest, explained that the unique geological history of the Philippine archipelago was largely responsible for its exceptional array of biological diversity; so much so that most of the islands–no matter how small they are–can possess its own unique species of animals and plants, which may not only be found in other parts of the country but nowhere else in the world. The geological development of our islands, coupled with varying climatic conditions and terrain, explain why the Tamaraw can only be found in Mindoro, or the new species found in Palawan may as well be endemic to that place alone.
Don’t you find it remarkable that there are still new species discoveries in this country even at this day and age? I would’ve thought that the age of discovery of natural lifeforms had already gone given that human civilization had practically charted and explored all known landmasses, and that technology has even advanced so much that we can already map the world using satellites from space. But despite our technological prowess and human achievements, we still hear time and again that a new species of plant, or frog, or bird, had just been recently discovered from known islands in the country, which is highly likely to continue even in the years to come.
What’s disturbing is this: the Philippines has been considered as the hottest of the biodiversity hotspots in the world. While the country is richly endowed with unique fauna and flora, its key critical habitats–such as forests, coral reefs, and mangroves–are continually being decimated each day. Remaining habitats and wildlife face a myriad of threats: land conversion, logging and mining, illegal trade, poaching, unsustainable use… it goes on. Population continues to increase which puts more pressure on dwindling natural resources. There have been efforts, of course, to conserve and protect all this natural heritage for the succeeding generations. Many are skeptical, however, that these interventions have ever been successful at all.
It is possible that new species will still be discovered in the recesses of country’s remaining scant habitats. One may ask, “Could there have been species that have become extinct instantaneously due of the decimation of habitats even before science had discovered them?” Is it ever too late for these undiscovered species to become known to the world given the general situation of the Philippine environment?