Historic Rainforest Protection for Endangered Wildlife and Indigenous People in the Philippines

Rainforest Trust

Nov 30, 2016

NewsProtected Areas

The Cleopatra’s Needle Forest Reserve in Palawan, the largest critical habitat created in the Philippines, safeguards endemic, threatened species such as the Philippine Pangolin, Palawan Bearcat and Palawan Horned Frog, and also protects the forest-dwelling Batak people.

  • Palawan Horned Frog. Photo by Robin Moore.
  • Philippine Pangolin. Photo by Sabine Schoppe
  • Palawan Hornbill. Photo by Carlo Bernitez Gomez

Rainforest Trust is delighted to announce that over 100,000 acres of rainforest encompassing and surrounding Cleopatra’s Needle, one of Palawan’s highest peaks, were just declared as a Forest Reserve due to the collaborative efforts of Rainforest Trust’s local conservation partner Centre for Sustainability-PH working with the Puerto Princesa city government.

This forest harbors incredible concentrations of endemic and endangered wildlife, and until the recent declaration was one of Palawan’s most threatened ecosystems due to pressures from logging, hunting and rapid urbanization. Of the species that reside only on the island of Palawan and nowhere else in the world, 85 percent are found on and around Cleopatra’s Needle; with that amount of rare species dependent on Palawan’s natural environment, the protection of its rainforest has been a conservation priority of global importance.

  • Cleopatra's Needle. Photo by Center for Sustainability.

The southern and eastern hills of Cleopatra’s Needle are home to a population of the Endangered Palawan Horned Frog, and nearby creeks contain the largest remaining population of the Vulnerable Philippine Flat-headed Frog. The Endangered Palawan Toadlet was rediscovered in 2015 in Cleopatra’s Needle, after not being observed for over 40 years.

Nearly 60 terrestrial mammal species have been recorded in Palawan, including the Endangered Philippine Pangolin, Vulnerable Palawan Bearcat and Asian Small-clawed Otter. Of 279 bird species found on Palawan, 27 are endemic to the Philippines, such as the Palawan Hornbill whose population is declining due hunting and the loss of lowland forest elsewhere on the island. In total, 31 threatened species inhabit the forests of Cleopatra’s Needle.

In addition to providing a haven for species that are at-risk for extinction, the reserve will also protect territory for a local indigenous group, the Batak tribe. Originally from Papua New Guinea and thought to be among the first humans to settle in the Philippines, the Batak people now reside in small villages and sustainably harvest a variety of forest products such as tree resins and honey.

  • Batak Children. Photo by Robin Moore.

“The reserve will protect the Philippine’s last 200 members of the Batak tribe and will safeguard the area from outside logging, maintaining their traditional lands and clean water supply,” said Rainforest Trust’s CEO Dr. Paul Salaman.

As part of the declaration process for the Cleopatra’s Needle Forest Reserve, a management plan was created, forest guard training courses were implemented and ecotourism activities are to be introduced to improve the livelihood of the Batak tribe.

This project was made possible thanks to the efforts of our local partner in Palawan as well as the generous support of Luanne Lemmer, Eric Veach, Brett Byers, Leslie Santos and many other friends of Rainforest Trust and in partnership with Global Wildlife Conservation.

Rainforest Trust continues to safeguard rainforests in the Philippines through our appeal to save the last critical habitats on Dinagat Island.

Recognized as a Key Biodiversity Area and last stronghold for the Giant Golden-crowned Flying Fox and Dinagat Bushy-tailed Cloud Rat, Dinagat Island is totally unprotected and is under imminent threat from a proposed massive mining operation.

We are urgently seeking your support to create four new protected areas that will secure essential forest and coastal habitat while establishing the first-ever designated conservation protection on this unique island.