By FELIMON G. ROMERO, PhD.
PANGLIMA SUGALA, Tawi-Tawi: The Sulu Hornbill, Anthracoceros montani, locally known as TAWSI in Tausug or KAAK in Sinama is an endemic species of bird which is only found in Tawi Tawi.
Recent estimates of its population in the wild is from minimum of 29 to a maximum of 40 individuals making it classified by International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Critically Endangered. It is also considered the rarest hornbill in the world.
Currently, the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (PBCFI), and the local government of Panglima Sugala under Mayor Nurbert M. Sahali are working together to monitor and update the status of Sulu Hornbill populations in forest and migration site habitats.
Through this project which is supported by Protect Wildlife of the USAID shares in the partnership to conserve and protect the remaining individuals of this critically endangered bird. This project aims to assess the status of the Sulu Hornbill and its critical habitats in the Upper Malum Watershed in Panglima Sugala Municipality, Tawi-Tawi Province, and assess the remaining forests in the watershed.
Information generated by this project will provide input to the declaration of Upper Malum Watershed as a Local Conservation Area and a Malum River Watershed Management Plan is being formulated. This is being done because the decline of its population has been attributed to the destruction of its habitat which is the forests.
The trees especially the fruits of the ficus trees are their main sources of food and also serve as their nesting grounds in association with other biodiversity important species of birds, fauna and flora.
Project results will also be packaged into information materials as technical support to local government units and the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Energy of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (MENRE-BARMM) in Tawi-Tawi, in raising community awareness of the global importance of the Sulu Hornbill and its habitat for biodiversity conservation and management.
Finally, the project will contribute to best practices in Sulu Hornbill assessment that can be replicated in other ASEAN countries.
In order the ensure the protection of this critically endangered bird, the Local Government of Panglima Sugala plans to declare the known extent its habitat as a Bird Sanctuary and a potential Ecotourism Site.
In addition, pursuant to section 35 of Republic Act 9147, otherwise known as Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001 which provides that Local Government Units can initiate conservation measures for endemic species in their areas.
For this purpose, Panglima Sugala has decided to adopt through a municipal ordinance the Sulu Hornbill, Anthracoceros montani as their flagship species which shall serve as the emblem of conservation for the local government.
This will conserve and protect the species and its natural habitats particularly those that are threatened and facing extinction and promote awareness of the communities on the importance of the Sulu Hornbill, Anthracoceros montani as a critically endangered species and the conservation of its habitat. FELIMON G. ROMERO