5 Reasons the Philippines is the Wildest Place on Earth
This month, all sorts of wildlife, from coral reefs to tarsiers and butterflies to hundred foot trees, are being put in the spotlight.
Communities and organizations worldwide have chosen May as the International Month for Biodiversity to celebrate the role of the millions of different life forms in keeping our forests, oceans, rivers, even cities and other ecosystems healthy and functioning. Without the contributions of these wonders of nature, there’s a pretty good chance that we wouldn’t be around right now.
To start things locally, we’d like to introduce people to the uniqueness of Philippine biodiversity.
Here are 5 examples showing why the Philippines is one of the wildest places in the world.
1) Two words: Killer Whales.
Killer whales jumping. Photo from Wikipedia.
Warm tropical seas make up a sizeable chunk of the Philippines' territory making us irresistible to even the largest of creatures including the famous Orca or Killer Whale (Orcinus orca). In fact, up to 27 other marine mammals called cetaceans can be found here as residents or passing through as migrants. We’re the place to be for dugongs, dolphins, and other whales looking for a place to eat.
Despite their names, Orcas are not known to attack humans much less prey on them, preferring to feed on fish and other large sea animals. Plus, they are highly social and behave like any human family, from mothers giving milk to newborns to playing games with nearby whales.
2) If butterflies have a heaven, it would be here.
This Laced Fritillary subspecies (female), Argyreus hyperbius sagada is a brush-footed butterfly endemic to Northern Luzon and Northern Mindanao. Its recorded hostplants are Viola betonicifolia, V. odorata (Violet, Violaceae). Photo by Rey M. Abellada, June 24, 2013. Baguio City, Philippines. From Philippine Lepidoptera Facebook page.
What would you do if you only had a week to live? Spend it in paradise of course. With a lifespan ranging from only a few days to a few months, all kinds of butterflies and moths (which both fall under the Lepidoptera order) have found heaven in the Philippines. With more than 15,000 plants to feed on here, who can blame them.
Up to 915 species and 910 subspecies are in the Philippines, showing there’s more to see than what lives in city gardens and empty lots. More importantly, as brief as their lives may be, the contribution of butterflies extends far in to the future as they pollinate and promote the growth of our flowering plants to keep ecosystems functioning.
3) Nothing is as rich as Philippine seas.
A diver looks over coral reefs in Batangas. Photo by Haribon member Bea Banzuela.
Right in the figurative middle of the Coral Triangle, the world’s center for fish and corals, is the Philippines, making us the center’s center. Add to that having one of 6 existing double barrier reefs in Danajon Bank, Bohol which may have been where anything that lives in Pacific waters evolved from according to the Zoological Society of London, and you end up with unmatched richness when it comes to marine biodiversity.
Which is just as well since over half of Philippine municipalities are considered as coastal areas that rely heavily on marine resources for livelihood and protection from disasters. Additionally, fish is the number one source of protein in the country, stressing the need to protect Philippine seas even more.
4) Climbing Philippine trees mean going up more than 100 feet in the air.
Remember that year in elementary school that had trees as sections? Or maybe they were streets in your village. Apitong, Guijo, and Lauan are some examples of native trees of the Philippines that easily grow to more than 100 feet. Unfortunately, these native trees are also on track for extinction.
Not only are logging, mining, and kaingin rapidly destroying the abysmal 22% forest cover we have left, these are being replaced with non-native invasive species such as Mahogany, Acacia, and Gmelina.
These exotic trees are suited more for logging than restoring the health of original forests. Trees such as Mahogany can alter the composition of their surrounding soil and discourage the growth of other wildlife, reducing a forest’s biodiversity levels.
Not to mention not providing a habitat for the next item on the list.
5) We are the only country that has this Eagle.
The Philippine Eagle is endemic to the Philippines. Photo by Klaus Nigge.
This is the critically endangered Philippine Eagle. The largest of its kind in the world, it reaches 3 feet in height and boasts a 7 foot wingspan. That’s enough to wrap you up with three painful hugs at the same time. It is, in our slightly biased opinion, the most majestic example of wildlife in the world.
As apex predators, Philippine Eagles are at the top of the food chain with flying lemurs, snakes, smaller birds, and even monkeys in their diet. Their local name, Haring Ibon, indicates just how undisputed they are as kings of Philippine forests.
And as kings, the only thing that can bring them down is a fellow top predator, humans. Through a century of hunting and destroying its habitat of primary forests with native trees, humans have reduced their number to 300 pairs in the wild. With each pair needing an estimated 100,000 square km of healthy forests, Philippine Eagles are finding it harder each year to feed and breed.
To date, thousands of species are still waiting to be discovered in the Philippines. Some will surely look weird while some will have even more bizarre behaviors, but all are important in maintaining the environment. Let’s keep them alive in the wild and out of cages.