44 Philippine species at risk of disappearing

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Tawilis was recently classified as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — It’s not just tawilis.

The Philippines is home to an enviable bounty of flora and fauna, many of which are consumed as food. What we consider food may be gone in the next few years, however, as displayed by recent news on the tawilis, now an endangered species.

In fact, a number of resident species — which are cultivated or hunted as food — may be heading to extinction, like the critically endangered tamaraw and the Visayan warty pig. Arabica coffee, the Pacific bluefin tuna, some species of lapu-lapu, and the pili nut are also vulnerable. Partly due to human consumption, sea turtles (like the green and loggerhead turtle) remain endangered.

There are many ways to conserve and protect these species. But the first step to conservation is understanding the extent of these species’ decline, in order to arrive at solutions with more impact.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in assessing the species above, does not use the terms “critically endangered,” “endangered,” or “vulnerable” loosely: they represent specific and definable risk levels in a spectrum, divided into nine categories in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

Not Evaluated: species yet to be assessed.

Data Deficient: species that are well-studied, but lacking appropriate data on distribution and/or abundance.

Least Concern: species that may face declining populations or threats, but not the level required of a threatened (i.e. vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered) listing. “Least concern” is understood in terms of extinction risk, but does not negate the need for conservation.

Near Threatened: Species that do not qualify, but are nevertheless in danger of becoming threatened, i.e. vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered, if conservation efforts cease.

Vulnerable: Any of the following: a projected population decline of greater than 30 percent over the next 10 years or three generations; a global range of less than 20,000 square kilometers; a stable global population size of less than 1,000 individuals.

Endangered: Any of the following: a projected population decline of greater than 50 percent over the next 10 years or three generations; a global range of less than 5,000 square kilometers; a stable global population size of less than 250 individuals.

Critically Endangered: Any of the following: a projected population decline of greater than 80 percent over the next 10 years or three generations; a global range of less than 100 square kilometers; a stable global population size of less than 50 individuals.

Extinct in the Wild: Species that have been extirpated (rooted out) from their natural habitat and now live only in captivity.

Extinct: Species of which the last individual has died, without reasonable doubt.

A more thorough discussion of the IUCN guidelines for classifying a species may be found here.

CNN Philippines Life compiled a list of several species (including tawilis) that are at risk and are either endemic to or a resident of the Philippines. There are many other threatened species in the Philippines; but this list focuses on species eaten as food and whose populations are decreasing or unknown.

The list and the data that follows are generally based on the IUCN Red List and cited studies therein.

Coffee_CNNPH.png Scientists have been reporting for years that wild arabica subpopulations are on the decline, due to deforestation, climate change, genetic erosion, pests, and diseases.

Arabica coffee

IUCN Red List Classification: Endangered

There are 124 known coffee species; 60 percent of which is in danger of extinction, including arabica, which is grown locally. Arabica constitutes majority of the global coffee trade. While our main output is robusta, if you drink coffee from the Cordilleras (or anything grown in higher altitudes), it’s probably arabica.

Scientists have been reporting for years that wild arabica subpopulations are on the decline, due to deforestation, climate change, genetic erosion, pests, and diseases. The problem is that the causes for decline have not ceased, with climate change posing the biggest threat both for cultivated and wild arabica species.

Preserving wild subpopulations are especially important: they hold the key to coffee sustainability, as cross-breeding these species with others may produce plants that are more resilient to climate change, pests, and diseases. These wild species must be preserved in their natural habitat; better facilities and mechanisms are required for coffee species cultivated outside of their areas of origin.


IUCN Red List Classification: Vulnerable

The catmon tree bears fruit and is found only in the Philippines. The fruit is used as vinegar and fish flavoring, as well as for achara and jams. As a medicinal plant, the fruit’s juice is mixed with sugar to treat cough. The wood from the tree is used for timber; it is also a popular ornamental plant.

Logging and wood harvesting and ecosystem degradation threaten the catmon, thus necessitating conservation efforts. More research is needed, however, to concretely identify risks and conservation actions for this species.

Pili_Nut.JPG The pili nut, a typical pasalubong fare, has been classified as vulnerable for population decline. Photo from PAULO NAVA/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Pili nut

IUCN Red List Classification: Vulnerable

The pili only grows in the Philippines, and is known for its rich buttery flavor when roasted. The typical pasalubong fare, however, has been classified as vulnerable for population decline. Its last date of assessment in the IUCN Red List is 1998; as with the catmon, more research is needed to identify specific threats and conservation actions for the pili.


IUCN Red List Classification: Vulnerable

Pajo looks like a small mango, but is distinct from it. It may be found in northern and central Philippines, but the species is not abundant anywhere, and timber is only available in small quantities. In the Philippines, fruits are available between March to May, and are often pickled to be served later on with fish or meat, eaten in salads, or on its own with salt. While it is not grown commercially, it is used as rootstock for the mango.

While more research is needed on this species, its population is threatened because of logging and wood harvesting, and its use as a non-timber crop and in livestock farming.

turtle 2.jpg Declining populations for sea turtles are attributed largely to human activity. Photo by CHANG CASAL

Sea turtle

IUCN Red List Classification: Endangered (green turtle); Vulnerable (loggerhead turtle, leatherback turtle, Olive Ridley turtle)

Five of seven marine turtle species are found in the Philippines; all of them are threatened. Four of them (as listed above) are hunted for their eggs and meat, considered as delicacies. The reasons for their decline vary, since sea turtles are found globally. What’s certain, however, is declining populations for sea turtles are attributed largely to human activity, and mitigation measures — including international cooperation — must be directed towards addressing these causes.

For the green turtle, it’s the overexploitation of eggs and adult females in nesting beaches, and for juveniles and males, in foraging areas. Pollution of marine habitats also contributes to the decline.

The leatherback turtle is most affected by bycatch (incidental capture in fisheries), followed by human consumption and coastal development. The loggerhead is affected by the same causes, as well as coastal development, pollution, and climate change.

The Olive Ridley, the most abundant sea turtle, battles the impacts of egg harvest, direct take of adults, bycatch, habitat degradation (including that caused by climate change), and diseases such as fibropapilloma.

Bombon sardine (Tawilis)

IUCN Red List Classification: Endangered

Population decline and decreasing area of occupancy classified the tawilis as endangered. While it is a dominant fish species in Taal Lake —– the only freshwater sardine species in the world —– overfishing, illegal fishing, the proliferation of fish cages, and deteriorating water quality have been observed along with its decline. The introduction of non-native piscivores (fish-eating animals, e.g. tilapia) also contributes to the decreasing tawilis stock.

Despite various conservation measures in place, the tawilis was still assessed at risk, leading the IUCN to recommend that “local government agencies should be more active in the implementation of various laws on lake management and conservation.”

Spiny-dogfish-shark-endangered_CNN.jpg Shark finning renders sharks unable to swim or breathe, leading to their death.


IUCN Red List Classification: Endangered (Scalloped hammerhead shark, great hammerhead shark, winghead shark, zebra shark); Vulnerable (oceanic whitetip shark, Philippine spurdog shark, silvertip shark, bottlenose wedgefish, silky shark, snaggletooth shark); Near Threatened (Blue shark, tiger shark, blacktip shark, grey carpetshark, bull shark, graceful shark)

The toxic delicacy of shark fin causes ecosystem chaos, as nearly 60 percent of its species are threatened with extinction. Populations of species, like the endangered hammerheads and the vulnerable oceanic whitetip, have declined by as much as 90 percent in recent years due to the aggressive trading in shark fins. In Chinese culture, shark fin consumption is tied to prestige and wealth.

While bycatch affects populations, it is intense hunting pressure that drives the decline of most shark species. Shark finning renders sharks unable to swim or breathe, leading to their death. The biggest shark fin trading hub, as consistently cited in studies, is Hong Kong.

The shark is valued not only for its fins, but also its flesh (the liver is a source of oil). International treaties have put in place several conservation measures, but in some cases of species less at risk, hunting is unregulated. More research is also needed for some species to identify the extent of population declines.

Grouper (Lapu-lapu)

IUCN Red List Classification: Vulnerable (squaretail coral grouper, camouflage grouper, brown-marbled grouper); Least Concern (leopard coral grouper, highfin grouper, white-dotted grouper, orange-spotted grouper, Malabar grouper)

Overfishing threatens the decreasing population of lapu-lapu, valued as a local delicacy. It is heavily targeted for the live reef food fish trade in Hong Kong and other parts of China, with the Philippines as a major source. Other threats include degradation of seagrass beds and reefs due to climate change and coastal development.

To prevent further population decline, the IUCN recommends focusing actions on conserving and monitoring spawning aggregations (or a grouping of fish species in high densities, for purposes of reproduction), reducing overfishing, and strict enforcement of existing management plans.


IUCN Red List Classification: Vulnerable (Pacific bluefin tuna); Near Threatened (Yellowfin tuna, albacore tuna)

The Pacific bluefin tuna has the highest value of any tuna species for use as sashimi, and it is one of the most important commercial species. Japan catches the majority of this tuna, followed by Mexico, US, Korea, and Chinese Taipei. Its population is on the decline, with purse seine fleets on the West Pacific Ocean (near Asia and Australia) making the most impact on stock, for capturing mostly juvenile fishes. Thus, conservation efforts directed at decreasing catch for species at juvenile ranges.

The yellowfin is also an important commercial species; the second most important for canning. The albacore tuna is also marketed mainly as canned white meat tuna. While both species are only near threatened, their population is declining due to overfishing to meet human demands.

Calamian deer.jpg The Calamian deer's continuing decline is attributed to hunting, human settlement, and agricultural expansion in its habitats. Photo from SCOTT HANKO/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Calamian and Philippine spotted deer

IUCN Red List Classification: Endangered (Calamian deer, Philippine spotted deer)

The Calamian deer may only be found in Busuanga, Calauit, Culion, Marily, and Dimaquiat islands in Palawan, altogether making the extent of its occurrence less than 5,000 square kilometers. Continuing decline is attributed to hunting, human settlement, and agricultural expansion in its habitats. The resettlement of Yolanda victims and squatting of outsiders in Busuanga also puts pressure on its habitat.

The Philippine spotted deer may only be found in the Western Visayas islands, now restricted to Panay’s Mount Badja — Mount Baloy area, and some remaining forests in Negros. Aside from having a limited range, the species is declining because of habitat conversion (due to agriculture and logging) and hunting. The species is hunted more for game/trophies, though some surplus meat is sold to specialty restaurants. Some are kept as a pets (among politicians, IUCN notes). It is estimated that only around 700 mature spotted deer remain.

Both species are poorly conserved, requiring a whole gamut of conservation efforts: effective management plans, the establishment of new protected areas, further research on their habitats, conservation education programs, better control of illegal hunting, and stricter law enforcement.

Balabac mouse deer (Pilandok)

IUCN Red List Classification: Endangered

The nocturnal pilandok (mouse deer) is a subject of stories and myths; with inaction, it might become just another character in our literature. The rare species may only be found (for certain) in Palawan, specifically the Balabac, Bugsuk, Ramos, Apulit, and Calauit islands. However, it is poached for food, displaced from its habitat (due to conversion to agriculture), and is sometimes subject to trade in living animals.

While there is extensive awareness of the pilandok, the species is protected under weakly enforced laws. Additionally, the pilandok is not subject to in-situ (inside the habitat) protection; the conservation measures in place are ex-situ (outside the habitat), with some populations held inside privately-owned areas. To effectively conserve the pilandok, in-situ measures are critical. Among others, further research on the species’ habitat requirements, the establishment of an effectively protected area, and further enforcement of hunting laws are required.

Bubalus_mindorensis_by_Gregg_Yan_02.jpg Aside from falling prey to poachers and getting caught in traps meant for other animals, tamaraws face land-use pressure from indigenous communities, who themselves are displaced by new settlers. Photo from GREGG YAN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS


IUCN Red List Classification:  Critically Endangered

The tamaraw, a species endemic to the Philippines, has a small population size that is already on decline. Historically, it has been hunted for subsistence and for sport. Laws ban this practice but illegal capture and killings continue.

While they are used for local consumption, the main threat to the species is they have little space to disperse and increase their range, due to human pressure and the shortage of natural corridors. Poaching continues. Tamaraws also get caught in traps not meant for them. The species also faces land-use pressure from indigenous communities, who themselves are displaced by new settlers, thus calling for a multi-sector approach to conservation beyond protected areas.

Wild pig (Baboy damo)

IUCN Red List Classification: Critically Endangered (Visayan warty pig); Vulnerable (Philippine warty pig, Oliver’s warty pig/Mindoro warty pig); Near Threatened (Palawan bearded pig)

Known locally as baboy damo, the four wild pig species above are endemic to the Philippines, and are all locally hunted for food. Populations of all species are declining.

The Visayan warty pig, the species most at risk, has a fragmented population surviving only in Negros, Panay, and possibly Masbate. The Philippine warty pig also suffers from a fragmented population and possible extinction in some islands, due to extensive logging operations, agricultural expansion, and hunting pressure.

The Oliver’s warty pig, only found in Mindoro, also has a fragmented population, caused by widespread destruction and decreasing quality of forest habitats (threatened by mining). The Palawan bearded pig, meanwhile, is still common in some areas, although it faces decline due to habitat loss and heavy hunting pressure.

The species above are fully protected by law, but enforcement remains a problem, especially in already-established protected areas.