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Philippine Crocodile Comeback

In Focus, Jan. 5, 2007

By Ben Jolliffe

Like most people in the province of Isabela some years ago, fisherman Samuel Francisco used to have mixed feelings about the Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis). “Big crocodiles, I am afraid of, but smaller crocodiles…I don’t feel so bad,” Francisco said, referring to the fact that the crocodiles were treated as pests.

He had no idea the Critically Endangered species was the most severely threatened crocodile in the world and had not been recorded on the island of Luzon in the Philippines biodiversity hotspot for many years.

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

Planning from the Ground Up

In 2003, a team of Philippine and Dutch conservationists had set up Mabuwaya – a contraction of the Filipino or Tagalog words “mabuhay buwaya,” which mean “long live the crocodile” – with funding from the BP Conservation Programme.

Mabuwaya expanded its activities by working more extensively with local communities, thanks to support from CEPF as part of its strategic direction of establishing an emergency response mechanism to help save Critically Endangered species in the Philippines Hotspot.

In November 2004, Mabuwaya invited local officials from the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources and representatives from 18 barangays, or village districts, in Isabela province to a regional Philippine crocodile conservation workshop.

By the end of the workshop, they had drafted site-specific conservation action plans for each barangay that were then published and circulated to key stakeholders.

“Even though the Philippine crocodile is protected by law at the national level, these laws are often unenforceable at the local level,” Mabuwaya Project Manager Jan van der Ploeg said. “So it’s vital to work with local communities to develop regulations from the ground up.”

Getting to the Local Level

After the workshop, Mabuwaya continued to work with barangay representatives to ensure that conservation plans were discussed in the community at large and then returned to be ratified at the municipal level. Of the 18 barangays represented at the workshop, 15 have since developed these plans and 11 have actually adopted regulations to help protect the crocodiles.

Even in the remote barangay of Didadungan, where Mabuwaya visits only once a year, the barangay council prohibited fisherman from using dynamite or electricity to stun fish, a fishing practice that also harmed crocodiles. The council also created a crocodile sanctuary there.

To help ensure consistency across all barangays at the regional level, the project team used the individual plans as a basis to develop an overarching strategy for crocodile conservation in the entire Sierra Madre biodiversity conservation corridor. Several key recommendations from the corridor strategy have been successfully implemented in the last three years.

Reward Schemes and Capture Protocols

One of the most effective tactics was to develop a reward scheme for protecting crocodile nests and hatchlings in San Mariano. Even though the non-hatchling crocodile population in known sites within the Sierra Madre Corridor was only 25 in 2005, the number of successful hatchlings has since quadrupled, promising new hope for the adult population in years to come.

“We pay around $9 for each hatchling into a community development fund for each of the three participating villages,” van der Ploeg said. “Volunteers stop people collecting eggs or destroying the nests during the incubation period.”

In one barangay, the money has been used to buy a water pump; in another, villagers have painted a large crocodile mural to help raise awareness.

Hatchlings are collected and raised in captivity for about one and half years, until they are approximately 70 centimeters long and have a much better chance of survival in the wild. Currently four juveniles from the 2005 nests and 35 hatchlings from the 2006 nests are being reared in this program.

Another successful tactic initially outlined in the overall strategy was to develop protocols for releasing crocodiles reared in captivity. Thanks to these, in August 2006 a crocodile was released into the wild after five years in captivity, a first for the Philippines.

Linking Species to Livelihoods

In the long term, perhaps the most successful tactic of all is to show local people how species conservation can help bring them other benefits. Many of the threats facing the crocodile population, such as unsustainable fishing practices, habitat destruction, and low levels of environmental awareness, are also a threat to local livelihoods.

Mabuwaya’s campaign to raise environmental awareness, also supported by CEPF, has successfully shown that by managing wetlands sustainably, communities will gain from increased fish stocks as well as cleaner and more reliable water supplies for irrigation, drinking, and washing.

Fisherman Victorino Montañedo, one of the 500 local people now helping Mabuwaya with monitoring and protection activities, recognizes the value of his work: “If you protect the crocodile, you also protect their habitat which provides food and water for us all.”

For further information, contact , project manager, Mabuwaya Foundation.

Read about Mabuwaya’s work funded through the BP Conservation Programme.

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© Mabuwaya Foundation
Community members of all ages participate in conservation programs to learn more about the Philippine crocodile.

© Jan van der Ploeg/Mabuwaya Foundation
The Critically Endangered Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) is threatened by exploitation and unsustainable fishing methods.

© Mabuwaya Foundation
Local fishermen now know how to properly handle crocodiles that were accidentally caught in their nets thanks to guidelines developed by Mabuwaya.

To find out more about CEPF’s work in this hotspot, visit the Philippines section of our site.

Visit the News & Feature Archive for this hotspot.

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