In his native Belgium, storks tiptoe unhindered between tractors.Â Â Robins and pigeons fill theÂ parks. â€œFeed the birdsÂ / Two pence a bagâ€Â is the haunting â€œMaryÂ Poppinsâ€â€ refrain.
In contrast,Â birdsÂ here run a gauntletÂ of slingshots, traps and pollution â€“ andÂ disdain. â€If it flies, it diesâ€, a NegrosÂ gun club bragged.Â Weâ€™ve razed forests, paved over mangroves (â€œAsphalt is theÂ lastÂ cropâ€) and poisoned rivers that are habitats for birds.
TheÂ Mindoro imperial pigeon, Sulu hornbillÂ and Mindanao parrot finch have vanished,Â we wrote in 2004. Since then, the number ofÂ native species, threatened with extinction, have risen to 89.Â Among these are theÂ Blue-Winged Racquet-Tail, the Isabela oriole, the Dark-Eared Brown Dove, Mindanao Bleeding-Heart and the Chinese Crested Tern.
â€œYour children will no longer thrill, as we onceÂ did, to the heart-stopping dive of a hawk,â€ National Scientist Dioscoro Umali,Â told UP graduating students, just before his death.
â€œWeâ€™ve stripped the land of its beauty,â€ he said â€œAnd the bitter tragedy is the victims are our grandchildrenÂ Â —Â Â flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. â€œ
Yet, the Philippines is a â€œmega-diversity â€œnation,â€ notes the UNâ€™sÂ â€œState of Environment in Asia and the Pacificâ€. Itâ€™s wedged amongÂ the top sevenÂ countriesÂ thatÂ Â â€œcollectively claim more than two-thirds of the earthâ€™s biological resources.â€ The Philippines and Australia top Indonesia in number of â€œendemicâ€ or native birds.
The UN-sponsoredÂ World Migratory Bird Day in 2010 . . . Its theme was: â€œSave migratory birds in crisis â€“Â Every species counts!â€Â NoÂ less than 77 species of egrets, plovers and sandpipers rest atÂ Olango Island, off Cebu, as they traverse the East Asian Migratory Flyway, toÂ 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, 192Â are tagged â€œCritically Endangered.â€
An estimated 19% of all known birds are considered migratory. Bird Life International classifiesÂ 11% asÂ â€œGlobally Threatened.â€
The Philippines has deteriorated intoÂ a â€œbio-diversityÂ hot spotâ€ â€“ one of the regionâ€™s 12. This strip expends from Indian Ocean islands, Eastern Himalayas to Sri Lanka. Many endemic species face extinction within this belt.
Deforestation saw â€œa number of bird species disappear from Cebu, Negros, Panay and Mindoro,â€ the UN study notes. â€œOf highest priority for conservation are Indonesiaâ€™s Lower Sundas, Eastern Himalayas, Luzon (especially Mindoro)â€Â itÂ 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.Â â€œMy grandchildren never saw this,â€ I mumbled. â€œAnd theyâ€™re poorer for the loss.â€
The Master from Galilee used the image of a hen, sheltering chicks from marauding hawks, to underscore â€œthe time of visitation.â€
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 â€œthe environment is under such stress that species which lived in them for thousands of years, can no longer survive,â€ the Philippines Red Data Book notes.
The graybird and flower pecker (dicaeum quadricolor) were unique to Cebu. Theyâ€™ve been wiped out and are now numbered among â€œfeathered desaparecidosâ€.
Add to theseÂ â€œdisappearedâ€Â theÂ Black-Hooded Coucal, Negros Striped-Babbler, Philippine Cockatoo, White-Throated Jungle-Flycatcher and Flame-Templed Babbler.
Cebu Daily Newsâ€™ mascot is the endangered black shama or siloy.Â Â But â€˜I havenâ€™t seen a siloy,â€ columnists Roy Lu wrote. â€˜Worse, I have seen other birds that will never sing again: the tukmo, the kukuk.â€
â€œConcentration of endangered birds is larger in islands like Hawaii, the Philippines, Indonesia or Mauritiusâ€™, periodicÂ World Conservation Union surveys found.â€
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 Cebuâ€™s Guadalupe river, coliform pollution exploded by 6,000 percent within a four year period â€” a candidate for the Guinness Book of Records.
Complacency stems from greed,Â indifference and ignorance. Used to past abundance, many assume â€˜thereâ€™s more where they came from. .Well, thereâ€™s none.
But no bird, herb or fish disappears alone, Oxford Universityâ€™s Dr. Norman Meyer warns. When they go, so do their unique genes â€” life building blocks.
Genes are spliced into â€˜miracle rice,â€ 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 â€œkilling curve of species, is genetic forfeitureâ€, Inquirer observed.â€ It seals off little understood options for our grandchildren.â€ Loss of species is irreversible obliteration of unique life forms.Â Â Â No one has yet invented recall from annihilation. Extinction is forever.
â€˜And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill?â€ asks the mythical Chief Seattle. â€œif all the (birds) were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit.â€ (Email:Â firstname.lastname@example.org)
(By JuanÂ Â LÂ Â Mercado)