by William Belo
From 31 January to 2 February 2007 the National Museum of the Philippines provided the venue for “The Forum on Crocodiles in the Philippines” at the Museum of the Filipino People, Rizal Park, Manila. More than 125 participants attended this meeting including 24 foreign scientists and conservationists representing 14 countries.
This Forum was developed with three primary goals:
The Forum was hosted by four organizations:
The National Museum of the Philippines (NMP). The National repository for natural history and cultural artifacts preserved for future generations of Filipinos. The National Museum also conducts research into a wide variety of fields to benefit the Filipino people. The National Museum has been in the forefront of conservation and conservation research and hosts numerous seminars and meetings to discuss current issues. The Forum on Crocodiles in the Philippines is one of the largest events of its kind hosted by the NMP.
Silliman University (SU). Silliman University, located in Dumaguete City, Negros Or., is a leader in conservation and natural history research in the Philippines. Although known mainly for its Marine Sciences programs, SU pioneered crocodile farming in the Philippines when in 1980 they started breeding the endangered Philippine Crocodile. Silliman University in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., conducted a survey of crocodile distributions and natural history between 1980 and 1982. This work is still the primary source of information available on crocodiles in the Philippines and is commonly quoted.
The Veterinary Office of the City of Manila (Office of the Mayor). Dr. Joe Diaz, the Chief Veterinary Officer of the city, was the first Director of the RP – Japan Crocodile Farming Institute (CFI, now known as the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center, PWRRC) outside Puerto Princessa, Palawan. This crocodile farm was created by the National government with aid from the Japanese government (JICA) and opened in 1987. As the Chief Veterinarian of the City of Manila, Dr. Diaz deals with topics related to crocodiles such as the Animal Welfare Act, hygienic slaughter and use of exotic meats such as crocodile, and coordinating the conservation and education programs on crocodiles of Manila Zoo.
Crocodylus Porosus Philippines, Inc. (CPPI). This is a loose association of 6 commercial crocodile farms, 3 on Luzon and 3 on Mindanao. These farms rear and breed the Indopacific Crocodile but are rapidly becoming instrumental in the conservation of both crocodile species found in the Philippines. The farm members of CPPI were selected by the Philippine government to pioneer this non-traditional industry with crocodiles produced in captivity at CFI.
Many members of these organizations were involved with planning, finance, and other activities necessary to make this Forum a success. We would like to specifically thank the Zoology Division staff of the National Museum, and, Vicente Mercado and Grace Mendoza of CPPI, for their outstanding sacrifice of time and effort.
The Forum took place over a three day period. The first morning, 31 January, was occupied primarily by Welcoming Addresses. The body was addressed by Jose Ferrer, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, followed by Dr. Corazon S. Alvina (Director, NMP), Dr. Minda S. Manantan (Department of Agriculture), Dr. Ben Malayang, III (President, SU), and Vicente P. Mercado (President, CPPI). After a brief break, three papers were presented by the academe (Dr. Angel Alcala on the “Purpose of this Forum”), private sector (Vicente P. Mercado on the “Status of Commercial Crocodile Farming”), and government (Dr. Mundita S. Lim, “DENR Policies on Crocodiles). These papers are included in these Proceedings. A group photo was taken before the lunch break.
The afternoon session comprised presented papers that dealt with regulations, trade, the role of local governments and conservation groups, as they pertain to crocodiles in the Philippines. Included in these was a paper by Yoichi Takehara describing myriad details of commercial crocodile skinning and grading protocol. The evening started with opening the National Museum’s special exhibit on “Crocodiles in Philippine Culture” by Dr. Corazon S. Alvina who gave a personal tour of the crocodile related artifacts and tapestries on display (this exhibit ran through May 2007). Posters were also presented along the walkway surrounding the courtyard.
Following the exhibit opening, a social with refreshments, was held in the open central courtyard of the Museum of the Filipino People. During the social, entertainment was provided by the 26 dancers of the Bitun Cultural Group, San Mariano Campus, of Isabela State University, Cagayan Province. This group promotes conservation and preservation of the environment, including crocodiles, through dance and performs in many Provincial and Municipal venues. This was their first opportunity to perform at a National level and their efforts were enjoyed by all in attendance.
The second day, 1 February, was comprised solely of contributed papers on aspects of crocodile biology and conservation. Following presentation of papers a Banquet hosted by CPPI with an open bar donated by Tanduay Distillers was held in the courtyard of the Museum of the Filipino People. Entertainment was provided by commercial singers and traditional dance groups with participation of the audience. Keynote speeches were given by Dr. Grahame Webb (Chairman, IUCN Crocodile Specialists Group) and Vicente P. Mercado. Mr. Arthur C. Yap, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, was in attendance. Donations to the “Forum Crocodile Conservation Fund” (created by Vicente P. Mercado during his Welcome Address) were received from “Sonny” Dizon (Davao Crocodile Park), William Belo (Coral Farms), the National Federation of Hog Raisers, and Salvador “Buddy” Chan Golden Acres Farm, Inc.).
The third day of the Forum was informal and organized loosely into 4 discussion groups. These were: Conservation of Wild Crocodiles, Reintroduction of Crocodiles into the Wild, Regulations concerning all aspects of Crocodiles in the Philippines and International Trade, and, Self Regulation of the Crocodile Industry. Resolutions from three of these groups were presented to the body during the afternoon and adopted. They are included in these Proceedings. The 4th group, dealing with Self Regulation of the Crocodile Industry resulted in the formation of an organization of approximately 20 members from academe, government and private sectors that has met several times and handled topics as diverse as animal welfare rights at the PWRCC, sale of live crocodiles to overseas interests, instigating a studbook of crocodiles in captivity in the Philippines, as well as organizational guidelines and constitution.
Several field trips were organized following the Forum. The primary two trips were to the Mabuwaya Foundation, Inc. and Isabela State University crocodile project in San Mariano, Isabela, and crocodile farms in Davao, Mindanao. Visits to crocodile farms and zoos in the vicinity of Manila were offered.
Other than the “networking” contacts and positive aspects of having such a large and diverse audience gather with the sole focus on crocodile conservation and sustained utilization in the Philippines, there have been several concrete accomplishments thus far that have resulted from the Forum:
1. The IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group has donated US$ 5,000 for cooperative interaction between the existing Mabuwaya crocodile project in northern Luzon and the fledgling crocodile project of University of Southern Mindanao (USM). These funds have been administered through CPPI and so far the USM group has traveled to Isabela Province and is waiting for the Isabela Province group’s reciprocal visit to USM for exchange ideas on crocodile conservation.
2. Crocodylus Porosus Philippines, Inc. has promised full funding for the first year, including start up costs, of the USM Crocodile Research Project (approximately US$ 16,000) in the Ligawasan Marsh, Mindanao**. To date, a flat bottom boat and outboard motor, as well as cash, have been provided for their use.
3. An organization open to all individuals (foreign and Filipino) with interest in any aspect of crocodiles in the Philippines is being formed but has already played a strong role in liaison with Government on National policy matters concerning crocodiles.
4. Forum fund for conservation and research on crocodiles in the Philippines has been created. This fund is administered through CPPI by three individuals from the academe, private sector, and government, and currently stands at approximately US$ 8,000.
5. Several workshops (both volunteer and contracted) have been organized and will take place in August and September 2007. These include: reduced stress handling of crocodiles, sanitation concerns of captive crocodiles, skinning and preservation of crocodile skins, and crocodile farming (how to improve existing farm operation).
6. Contact with the Departments of Education, and, Interior and Local Governments, has led to an ongoing collaboration with SU and CPPI members to integrate components on sustained utilization of wildlife, wetlands conservation, and crocodiles, into existing primary school education curricula.
The papers presented in these Proceedings are not peer reviewed. An effort to edit submitted papers was made to standardize formatting and grammar (without changing intent).
Papers were edited primarily by A. C. Alcala and C. A. Ross.
On behalf of the Forum Secretariat,Careen Belo, CPPI., July 2007.
* The common name Indopacific Crocodile is used throughout these Proceedings. See paper by Ross (these Proceedings) on the rational for use of this name in the Philippines.
** The original spelling Ligawasan is used for the large marshlands of central Mindanao often referred to as Liguasan Marsh. Liguasan is a colonial period corruption of the original name.