Lesson Learned

Jan van der Ploeg & Merlijn van Weerd, CROC team leaders, Cagayan Program on Environment and Development, Mabuwaya Foundation Inc.

With support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), Mabuwaya Foundation Inc. worked with communities to develop a conservation program to change opinions about crocodiles and bring the species back from the brink of extinction.

Mabuwaya implements the Crocodile Rehabilitation, Observance, and Conservation (CROC) project, which was started and initially funded by the BP Conservation Programme through the Cagayan Program on Environment and Development.

What was the most important lesson learned?

Community consultations and public awareness campaigns can be more effective tools than penalties and patrols to enforce environmental legislation.

Describe how you learned this and whether / how you have adapted your approach or specific project elements as a result.

There are two crocodile species in the Philippines: the saltwater crocodile (Crocoydlus porosus) and the endemic Critically Endangered Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis). In the Philippines, crocodiles are officially protected by law: killing a crocodile carries a penalty of 100,000 pesos (US$2,000).

However, indiscriminate hunting, destructive fishing practices (fishing with dynamite, electricity, or chemicals), and the conversion and pollution of wetlands continue to threaten both species.

Most people, including local government officials and village leaders, simply do not know that crocodiles are officially protected by law. And if they know, they often consider the penalty outrageous and unfair, due to the fact that most people in the Philippine uplands earn less than US$2 a day.

As a result, using dynamite for fishing, killing a crocodile, or clearing crocodile habitat is often tolerated at the local level.

At the supra-local level, national government institutions lack funds, technical capabilities and political support to enforce environmental laws in remote areas in the Philippines. As a consequence habitats and species continue to be threatened, despite the presence of a myriad of national laws and policy frameworks designed to protect the country’s endemic biodiversity.

With financial support from CEPF, Mabuwaya has conducted a public awareness campaign in the coastal municipalities of the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park. Lectures were held and posters were distributed in areas where crocodiles still live.

Through community consultations to discuss the best possible ways to protect crocodiles, Mabuwaya learned that local communities are not opposed to crocodile conservation and people are proud of contributing to the conservation of a threatened species.

Mabuwaya also organized a training workshop for village leaders. Here, local people designed specific action plans to protect crocodiles and wetlands.

In the Philippine uplands, there is a strong social basis to act against environmental destructive practices as communities see their resource base threatened. During the workshop local regulations were drafted to protect the resources on which communities depend.

The village of Diana, for example, made an ordinance prohibiting destructive fishing methods, and the village of Didadungan created a crocodile sanctuary. Local people consider these local rules important, legitimate, and fair, and consequently respect them, demonstrating that in the Philippine uplands the word is sometimes mightier than the sword.

As a result, wetlands are effectively protected and crocodiles have become a symbol for local environmental stewardship.

- March 2, 2007