“FEATHERED DESAPARECIDOS: 2”

mercado-thumbThe grey-haired visitor from Brussels was perplexed, “Where,” he asked,.” did your birds disappear to?”

In his native Belgium, storks tiptoe unhindered between tractors.  Robins and pigeons fill the parks. “Feed the birds / Two pence a bag” is the haunting “Mary Poppins”” refrain.

In contrast, birds here run a gauntlet of slingshots, traps and pollution – and disdain. ”If it flies, it dies”, a Negros gun club bragged. We’ve razed forests, paved over mangroves (“Asphalt is the last crop”) and poisoned rivers that are habitats for birds.

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The Mindoro imperial pigeon, Sulu hornbill and Mindanao parrot finch have vanished, we wrote in 2004. Since then, the number of native species, threatened with extinction, have risen to 89. Among these are the Blue-Winged Racquet-Tail, the Isabela oriole, the Dark-Eared Brown Dove, Mindanao Bleeding-Heart and the Chinese Crested Tern.

“Your children will no longer thrill, as we once did, to the heart-stopping dive of a hawk,” National Scientist Dioscoro Umali, told UP graduating students, just before his death.

“We’ve stripped the land of its beauty,” he said “And the bitter tragedy is the victims are our grandchildren  —  flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. “

Yet, the Philippines is a “mega-diversity “nation,” notes the UN’s “State of Environment in Asia and the Pacific”. It’s wedged among the top seven countries that  “collectively claim more than two-thirds of the earth’s biological resources.” The Philippines and Australia top Indonesia in number of “endemic” or native birds.

The UN-sponsored World Migratory Bird Day in 2010 . . . Its theme was: “Save migratory birds in crisis – Every species counts!” No less than 77 species of egrets, plovers and sandpipers rest at Olango Island, off Cebu, as they traverse the East Asian Migratory Flyway, to flee winter.

Worldwide, a staggering 1,227 or 12.4% of the total 9,865 extant bird species in the world are currently classified as globally threatened. Of these, 192 are tagged “Critically Endangered.”

An estimated 19% of all known birds are considered migratory. Bird Life International classifies 11% as “Globally Threatened.”

The Philippines has deteriorated into a “bio-diversity hot spot” – one of the region’s 12. This strip expends from Indian Ocean islands, Eastern Himalayas to Sri Lanka. Many endemic species face extinction within this belt.

Deforestation saw “a number of bird species disappear from Cebu, Negros, Panay and Mindoro,” the UN study notes. “Of highest priority for conservation are Indonesia’s Lower Sundas, Eastern Himalayas, Luzon (especially Mindoro)” it adds.

On an Ulaan Bator hilltop, I watched hawks, swoop from clear Mongolian skies. Childhood memories of hawks swooping to snatch chicks in outlaying barrios resurfaced. “My grandchildren never saw this,” I mumbled. “And they’re poorer for the loss.”

The Master from Galilee used the image of a hen, sheltering chicks from marauding hawks, to underscore “the time of visitation.”

Birds perform multiple tasks from curbing insect infestations to scattering seeds.

In the shrinking North Negros Forest Reserve, 20 percent of trees will fail to regenerate, if the present rate of hunting continues, a University of British Columbia study notes.

Like rivers, birds make up a unique and sensitive early warning system. When rivers dry up, or birds disappear, they signal that “the environment is under such stress that species which lived in them for thousands of years, can no longer survive,” the Philippines Red Data Book notes.

The graybird and flower pecker (dicaeum quadricolor) were unique to Cebu. They’ve been wiped out and are now numbered among “feathered desaparecidos”.

Add to these “disappeared” the Black-Hooded Coucal, Negros Striped-Babbler, Philippine Cockatoo, White-Throated Jungle-Flycatcher and Flame-Templed Babbler.

Cebu Daily News’ mascot is the endangered black shama or siloy.  But ‘I haven’t seen a siloy,” columnists Roy Lu wrote. ‘Worse, I have seen other birds that will never sing again: the tukmo, the kukuk.”

“Concentration of endangered birds is larger in islands like Hawaii, the Philippines, Indonesia or Mauritius’, periodic World Conservation Union surveys found.”

Island birds are smaller in number and range. They become vulnerable when forests, as in Mindanao are razed, or rivers like Abra are laced with toxic chemicals and human nature waste. In Cebu’s Guadalupe river, coliform pollution exploded by 6,000 percent within a four year period — a candidate for the Guinness Book of Records.

Complacency stems from greed, indifference and ignorance. Used to past abundance, many assume ‘there’s more where they came from. .Well, there’s none.

But no bird, herb or fish disappears alone, Oxford University’s Dr. Norman Meyer warns. When they go, so do their unique genes — life building blocks.

Genes are spliced into ‘miracle rice,” high-yielding corn, or, even Dolly the sheep, if you remember. Other go into drugs against cancer, AIDS, etc. No one knows what may-be needed the day after.

This “killing curve of species, is genetic forfeiture”, Inquirer observed.” It seals off little understood options for our grandchildren.” Loss of species is irreversible obliteration of unique life forms.   No one has yet invented recall from annihilation. Extinction is forever.

‘And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill?” asks the mythical Chief Seattle. “if all the (birds) were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit.” (Email: juanlmercado@gmail.com)

(By Juan  L  Mercado)



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