New documentary shines a light on fragile forests of Panay Island in the Philippines

The vital work of forest rangers to protect rare wildlife on a Philippine island has been highlighted in a new documentary, which launches on World Wildlife Day (Wednesday, March 3).

The Philippines is considered to be one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots because of the amazing variety of wildlife found there. Yet more than 50 per cent of the country’s forests have been cut down, mainly to grow crops.

The islands of Negros and Panay are home to highly-threatened species such as the Negros bleeding heart dove, Visayan warty pig, Visayan tarictic hornbill, Philippine spotted deer and Walden’s hornbill.

We have been working with our partner PhilinCon on Panay Island since 2018, to prevent illegal hunting and forest clearing, to protect the last remaining area of virgin forest on the island, as well as leading the conservation efforts of many threatened species in the area.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, we have been able to continue to support a dedicated team of rangers on the West Visayas island of Panay – supplementing the salary of six of the 12 rangers there.

The rangers carry out patrols to safeguard the unique biodiversity of this island, as well as deploying motion-activated camera traps set up deep in the forests to survey threatened species.

Now a new documentary highlights the struggles of these ‘unsung heroes’ as they patrol remote areas of the forest, at risk of ambush from illegal hunters.

The film, entitled ‘Guardians of the Forest’, has been produced by our project partner, PhilinCon, a non-government organisation (NGO), dedicated to the conservation of the environment in the Philippines.

The documentary launches on World Wildlife Day (March 3), which this year celebrates the theme ‘forests and livelihoods: sustaining people and planet’ and aims to highlight the central role of forests, forest species and ecosystems services in sustaining the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people globally.  

Dr Daphne Kerhoas, who leads the field conservation project in the Philippines on behalf of Bristol Zoological Society, said: “This video shines a light on the vital role our rangers play in protecting the virgin forests in the Northwest Panay Peninsula - the only remaining area of virgin low-altitude forest on the entire island.”

“It is an incredibly important job but certainly not an easy one. They patrol areas that are very remote and far away from the authorities, with no weapons, which means that they are at risk if they encounter armed, illegal hunters – which does happen. They are remarkably skilled at resolving conflict peacefully and encouraging the hunters to surrender their weapons.”

In the video, one of the rangers explains the important role they play: “The goal of our group is to monitor the wildlife in these mountains, especially the illegal cutting of our trees, so we are really defending those.”

The rangers said they are aware of the dangers and take precautions, but carry on their work in order to protect the forest. They said they try to work with the illegal hunters by offering alternative livelihoods, to help avoid conflict and to prevent them needing to hunt to generate an income.

One of the rangers adds: “We are doing a service to the public, but we are thankful to those who help provide us with tools and things that we can use here on our daily operations and patrols. We are grateful for that.”

Guardians of the Forest is a 37-minute documentary, which can be watched online here:

The documentary was directed and filmed by Stance Mitchell and produced by PhilinCon Germany, with special thanks to Bristol Zoological Society, Rhea Santillan, Jann Vinze Barcinal, DENR, Phillincon board of trustees and all the project donors.

It is dedicated to the memory of Professor Dr Eberhard Curio (1932-2020), scientific advisor, president and founder of PhilinCon.

To find out more about Bristol Zoological Society’s work in the Philippines, visit our conservation page

Bristol Zoological Society is a conservation and education charity and relies on the generous support of the public not only to fund important work at Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place Project, but also vital conservation and research projects spanning four continents.

In March 2020, the Society launched an appeal to ensure the future of its work Saving Wildlife Together. To find out more or to make a donation, visit bristolzoo.org.uk/bzsappeal.

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