DENR frees endangered Nicobar pigeons

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Five Nicobar pigeons (Caloenas nicobarica) that have been rehabilitated for the last six years at the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Quezon City were released recently back into the wild in an attempt to augment the wild population of the critically endangered bird.

The Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) of the DENR said the three female and two male pigeons were released at the world-famous Apo Reef Natural Park (ARNP) as part of the national observance of the first-ever World Wildlife Day. 

A native of Southeast Asia, Nicobar pigeon (locally known as Siete colores) is named for an archipelagic island chain in the eastern Indian Ocean.

This regal-looking bird, considered as one of the most beautiful of the many species of doves, is classified as “near threatened” on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and listed under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits international trade in specimens of such species. 

BMB director Theresa Mundita Lim said the Nicobar pigeons were rescued from poachers by operatives of the DENR-Region 3 in Pampanga in 2008. The birds were then admitted and rehabilitated at the Wildlife Rescue Center inside the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center in Quezon City. 

Lim, who led the release ceremony at the ARNP together with local government officials, said the 34-sq.km. protected area off Sablayan town in Occidental Mindoro is an ideal breeding site for the pigeons. 

ARNP is the second largest contiguous coral reef in the world, next to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. There are at least 33 Nicobar pigeons presently inhabiting Apo Island, the largest of three islands that make up the reef.

It will be recalled that DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje had stressed during the kick-off program for World Wildlife Day on March 3 that the government has been intensifying efforts to curb illegal wildlife trade in an effort to protect and conserve the country’s wildlife resources. 

Paje likewise underscored the need for people to change their perception of wildlife as their personal property, saying “We should not look at (wildflife) as our property, but part of God’s creation that we are meant to co-exist with here on earth.” 

Paje added: “While people may consider experiences with wildlife as part of their fondest memories, wildlife is not really meant for our enjoyment especially when extracted (from their habitat)”.

Lim said the additional five pigeons are expected to boost the local population of the threatened birds after being observed to have courtship behavior during their rehabilitation. 

“We are releasing these birds into the wild as an intervention to help increase their population,” she pointed out.

Nicobar pigeon is listed as “threatened” in the DENR Administrative Order No. 2004-15. 

As such, Lim said that the commercial trade of these birds, especially those caught in the wild, is strictly prohibited. Captive breeding is only allowed for conservation-related purposes and if within legislative facilities, she added. 

Illegal capture and trade of Nicobar pigeons are subject to penalties under Republic Act No. 9147, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act. 

Nicobar pigeons are locally called Siete colores (seven colors) due to their shimmering, rainbow-like plumage mostly consisting of blues and metallic greens. Their distinctive white tail serves as taillight among the species during low-lit times of the day. 

The pigeons feed on fruits, grains, seeds, insects and small invertebrates. The BMB has determined the presence of at least 22 species of fruit-bearing plants and 30 invertebrate species to sustain the pigeons on the ARNP. 

Small, thriving populations of Nicobar pigeons have been found in lowland forests or mangroves on small, less-disturbed islands across the lower half of the country, and elsewhere in Asia.

They are, however, threatened by habitat destruction, or when hunted as part of the pet trade, as food, or for their gizzard stones which are used in jewelry. 











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