June 2014 marked another milestone for the Philippines as the country added one more of its crown jewels to the prestigious list of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. During its 38th session in Doha, Qatar, the United Nations cultural body gave World Heritage status to the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary (MHRWS) in Davao Oriental province.
The designation of the mountain range – which is home to an astonishing diversity of species, including the endangered Philippine eagle and the Philippine cockatoo – as a World Heritage site brought long overdue recognition to its outstanding universal value.
Mt. Hamiguitan is the country’s sixth World Heritage site. The others are: the Palawan’s Tubbataha Reef Natural Park (TRNP) and Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP); Rice Terraces in the Cordillera Region; baroque churches in Manila, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte and Iloilo; and Vigan City in Ilocos Sur.
According to the UNESCO, Mt. Hamiguitan was designated a World Heritage site because it “showcases terrestrial and aquatic habitats at different elevations, and includes threatened and endemic flora and fauna species.”
DENR Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje has hailed the designation as a “significant milestone” in the effort to preserve Mt. Hamiguitan’s rich biodiversity, noting that it is the third “natural site” in the country to be included in the World Heritage list, next to TRNP and PPSRNP.
The environment chief said the recognition provides a major boost for the conservation of the mountain range and the protection of unique and endangered plant and animal species within it.
“It is a matter of great pride for the nation that Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary has been chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its inclusion in the UN cultural agency’s prized list is a significant milestone in our effort to protect and preserve its rich biodiversity and ecosystems,” Paje said.
In a few words, Mt. Hamiguitan is a world natural treasure that needs protection for the enjoyment of future generations.
What makes Mt. Hamiguitan so special?
A wildlife sanctuary and a bonsai forest
Mt. Hamiguitan is located at the Pujada Peninsula within the Eastern Mindanao Biodiversity Corridor in Davao Oriental. Its peaks vary from 75 to 1,637 meters above sea level.
The mountain range has an area of more than 16,000 hectares, of which 6,834 hectares was declared as a protected area in 2004 by virtue of Republic Act (RA) No. 9303. It straddles Mati City and the municipalities of San Isidro and Governor Generoso, and is an important source of water for lowland communities through the various rivers streaming down its slopes such as the Baua, Tibanban, Bigaogan and Dumagooc rivers.
Its relatively pristine vegetation is habitat to about 1,381 species of flora and fauna, 341 of which are endemic. Wild endemic fauna like the Hamiguitan hairy-tailed rat, Philippine palm civet, Philippine field rat, the Mindanao wild pig, the Philippine tree squirrel, and the Philippine deer call it home alongside the Philippine eagle, the Mindanao bleeding heart dove, the Philippine cockatoo, and the rare Delias magsadana butterfly. Its amphibian and reptile inhabitants are, respectively, 75 and 84 percent endemic.
Mt. Hamiguitan’s forest ecosystem is noted for species like alim, almon, agoho, dao, and almaciga, and the critically endangered yakal and the Paphiopedilum adductum orchid. It is also known as the only habitat of the unique yet vulnerable Hamiguitan pitcher plant.
The mountain is also known for two unique features. One of these is the “Tinagong Dagat” which, while literally translated as “Hidden Sea,” is actually a lake that curiously experiences high and low tides.
But its most famous feature is its unique 225 hectares of bonsai trees estimated to be at least a century old and forming what has been considered as the country’s largest “pygmy forest.” The bonsai formations, as well as the diversity of plant and animal habitats, are largely credited to Mt. Hamiguitan’s ultramafic nature.
An urgent need for preservation
As with many other ecosystems, the biggest threat to the richness of Mt. Hamiguitan’s biodiversity are from human activities such as illegal extraction of natural resources (including mining, bio-prospecting, and timber and wildlife poaching), unsustainable farming, unregulated tourist activities, pollution and unchecked human settlement. Aggravating these is the threat brought about by climate change.
Declaring Mt. Hamiguitan as a protected area was the first step in recognizing the need to protect the site and all its natural wonders. The law required the creation of a Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), headed by the DENR with members composed of representatives from the local government units, people’s and non-government organizations, other government agencies and other stakeholders. The PAMB acts as a policy-making body ensuring the protection, preservation and conservation of Mt. Hamiguitan. This included formulating the management plan; permitting, controlling and regulating all activities within the protected area in accordance with RA 7586, also known as the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act.
The office of the Protected Area Superintendent (PASu), meanwhile, carries out the implementation of the management plan and oversees the enforcement of the NIPAS Act and other wildlife conservation laws.
As a known habitat of the endangered Philippine eagle, Mt. Hamiguitan is considered a hotspot, and is the Philippine Eagle Alliance’s priority site in Eastern Mindanao for conservation and protection.
The MHRWS is also one of the pilot sites for the Biodiversity Partnerships Project (BPP), which is funded by the Global Environment Fund through the United Nations Development Programme. The project is implemented in key biodiversity areas and prioritizes the conservation of threatened inhabitant species and their habitats from threats like unsustainable agricultural production and incompatible land use.
With the implementation of the BPP, the DENR will work closely with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Tourism in establishing feasible and sustainable tourism activities and enterprises. Concerned local government units will also be trained on how to plan and manage economic activities without adversely affecting the natural habitats.
For the environment sector, the inclusion of the MHRWS into the World Heritage list brings serious global attention to what it can contribute to the Philippines’ natural heritage, which future generations will hopefully appreciate. #
® Public Affairs Office