Negros Biodiversity a Focus for World Wildlife Day on 3 March 

Famed for its sizzling beaches and sweet sugarcane fields, the island of Negros also hosts some of the country’s rarest wildlife.

“The Philippine Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), Visayan Spotted Deer (Rusa alfredi) and Visayan Warty Pig (Sus cebifrons) once roamed freely throughout the island, but have become endangered because of hunting and habitat loss,” explains Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Incorporated (PhilBio) Executive Director Lisa Paguntalan. “Now they’ve been pushed into the most remote parts of Negros, like the misty forests of Kanlaon Volcano.”

Within a span of about 200 years, Negros lost 96% of its original forest cover. Adjacent islands such as Cebu experienced similar forest loss, driving animals such as the Cebu Warty Pig (Sus cebifrons cebifrons), Ticao Tarictic Hornbill (Penelopides panini ticaensis) and possibly the Negros Fruit Dove (Ptilinopus arcanus) to extinction.

“However, some of these extinct animals might still be alive,” shares Lisa, who was part of a team that helped rediscover the Philippine Bareback Fruit Bat (Dobsonia chapmani) – a species thought extinct since the 1970s – in Cebu in 2001 and Negros in 2003.

Starting out as a programme of international conservation organization Flora & Fauna International in 1991, PhilBio was eventually registered as a foundation in 2006 and now works to conserve lesser-known endangered animals across the Philippines, including Cebu, Mindanao and Negros, which hosts notable Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) including the Northern Negros Natural Park, Bais Bay and Apo Island.

To help conserve the biodiversity of Negros and sustain it through a stable flow of financing, the Biodiversity Finance Initiative of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and United Nations Development Programme (DENR-UNDP BIOFIN) recently partnered with PhilBio and the provincial governments of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed in Negros Occidental on 7 July 2023. Our province shall continue to support biodiversity financing for the conservation and protection of the environment, says Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson.

Another MOU was signed in Negros Oriental on 18 September 2023. “This agreement fortifies our conservation efforts through sustainable financial mechanisms,” says Negros Oriental Governor Manuel Sagarbarria.

“These two MOUs will help find, access, combine and prepare sources of biodiversity funding, including those from national and sub-national government agencies, plus businesses,” explains BIOFIN Philippines Country Manager Anabelle Plantilla. “They should also help insert provincial biodiversity conservation programs into the plans of national government agencies, regional councils, and other relevant groups.”

“We’re glad to work with PhilBio and our two Negros LGUs through the DENR-UNDP BIOFIN. The DENR is always ready to work with the LGUs to help in the sustainable management of our Protected Areas and wildlife – not just in Negros, but nationwide,” says DENR Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and concurrent OIC BMB Director Marcial Amaro, Jr.

More Funds Allotted for Negros Biodiversity Projects

Over the past few years, the biodiversity conservation budgets of both provinces have been rising, proving that Negrenses are serious about saving their wildlife. Crucial to the budget increase is the crafting of the Negros Island Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NIBSAP). This roadmap was developed in 2018 with assistance from the DENR-UNDP BIOFIN and since then, both provinces have used the NIBSAP as a tool for biodiversity budget advocacy.

From 2023 to 2024 alone, the biodiversity budget allocation of Negros Occidental grew from PHP297M to PHP366M.

The annual biodiversity conservation budget of Negros Oriental grew from just PHP3M in 2018 to over PHP20M this 2024.

These funds enabled a wide range of conservation initiatives, ranging from a wildlife field course hosted by the LGU of Negros Oriental, to the purchase of a 10-hectare plot covering seven waterfalls in Negros Occidental’s Mambukal Sanctuary for long-term protection.

Both provinces are also promoting ecotourism to help fund the management and improvement of Negros Island’s protected areas, including the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park, a haven for birdwatchers, Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park, the Visayas’ top mountaineering destination, plus the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape, known for whale and dolphin watching safaris.

“Conservation isn’t politically delineated,” adds Lisa.  “Birds, bats and other wildlife rarely stay within political boundaries so they deserve to be given ‘corridors’ or interlinked habitats which are protected and properly managed. We hope this can be done throughout Negros within this decade.”

Developing finance solutions for biodiversity conservation in Negros Island is just one of the many ways that DENR-UNDP BIOFIN is supporting global biodiversity conservation by mainstreaming conservation funding not only at the national level, but also at the local level.

Since 2014, BIOFIN has been working with the DENR and many allies to finance the Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP), the country’s roadmap to conserving its biodiversity. Its current target is to narrow down the national budget gap for environmental projects, estimated at PHP19 billion yearly.

Active in 41 countries, BIOFIN works to close the financing gap for the conservation and sustainable use of the planet’s biological diversity by generating revenues, realigning and avoiding unsustainable expenses and improving biodiversity management efforts.

“We envision a future where the biodiversity of Negros and other Philippine islands not just thrives, but regularly attracts droves of eco-tourists. This World Wildlife Day, let’s renew our commitment to protect Philippine biodiversity by highlighting the importance of investing in the environment,” concludes UNDP Resident Representative Dr. Selva Ramachandran.