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Unveiling New Philippine Owls
Unbeknown to a lot of people, Cebu is home to a number of rare animals. Adding to the list is one of the rare types of owls uncovered at the “Unveiling New Owls in the Philippines” event held at the Casino Español de Cebu on August 17, 2012.
Former Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano, who is also a trustee of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (PBCFI), gave out a welcome message saying “the addition to the biodiversity treasure chest of Cebu will hopefully bring more public awareness of nature’s gifts, the need to protect their habitats and to work harder at conservation.”
The three-country event simultaneously took place in the Philippines, United States of America and the United Kingdom, recognizing the “spectacular diversity” of fauna in the Philippines. The well-attended affair, which was organized by the PBCFI, in cooperation with the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP)-Visayas, unveiled at least eight (8) new species and one (1) new subspecies of Philippine owls.
One of the highlights of the event is the introduction of the endemic (creatures that can be found nowhere else in the world) owl named the Cebu Hawk Owl (Ninox rumseyi). According to PBCFI biologist Lisa Marie Paguntalan, this hawk owl is “possibly endangered as it is only found in small patches of forests in Cebu.” These owls that feed on small insects, birds, snakes and mammals specifically live in southern towns of Argao, Alcoy and Dalaguete.
Philip Godfrey Jakosalem, who did extensive research on this species for more than a year said that there are only about 200 pairs of the Cebu Hawk Owl left. It is the third bird species endemic to Cebu, joining the song bird Black Shama or Siloy (Copsychus cebuensis) and the Cebu Flowerpecker (Dicaeum quadricolor).
PBCFI director William Oliver gave an overview on the Philippine owls, saying the Philippines “supports a spectacular diversity of owls.” In scientific terms, there are three (3) families, eight (8) genera, twenty-three (23) species and twelve (12) subspecies of owls in the Philippines. Most of them, consisting of 15 species and 14 subspecies, are endemic. He stated that many are threatened but not well known or appreciated.
The only Philippine owls currently in the International Union for Conservation of Nature/BirdLife International (IUCN/BLI) Red Listings are the Philippine Eagle Owl (Bubo philippensis) and the Giant Scops Owl (Mimizuku gurneyi), categorized as vulnerable. The unveiling event will in someway earn public support in conserving the owls and their habitats.
The “Unveiling New Owls in the Philippines” is a mark of the publication of the second revision of the taxonomy or classification of two (2) Philippine endemic owls, namely the Philippine Hawk Owl (Ninox philippensis) and the Philippine Scops Owl (Otus megalotis). These owl species used to be considered as a “complex” of distinct and separate subspecies found in a Philippine island or group of islands.
Because the two were not considered full-scale species, they were overlooked in terms of conservation. Although they are known to be severely threatened, they were not included in the national and international listings of threatened and protected species.
Led by Filipino ornithologist Dr. Hector Miranda, a revision of the Philippine Scops Owl elevated three (3) subspecies of the Philippine scops owl to full species status. They are the Luzon Lowland Scops-Owl (Otus megalotis), Negros or West Visayan Scops Owl (Otus nigrorum) and the Mindanao Lowland Scops Owl (Otus everetti).
On the other hand, Dr. Pamela Rasmussen, a professor at the Michigan State University, led a research team composed of US, UK and Filipino researchers to achieve the long-awaited revision of the taxonomy of the Philippine hawk owls. They have been successful in elevating four (4) types of owls previously considered subspecies to full species status. They are the Luzon Hawk Owl (Ninox philippensis), Mindoro Hawk Owl (Ninox mindorensis), Romblon Hawk Owl (Ninox spilonota, comprising two subspecies, one of which is newly described, i.e. Ninox spilonota fisheri from Tablas Island), the Mindanao Hawk Owl (Ninox spilocephala) and the Sulu Hawk Owl (Ninox reyi).
It also included the first formal descriptions of two (2) entirely new species, the Cebu Hawk Owl and Camiguin Sur Hawk Owl (Ninox leventis), and one new subspecies. Rasmussen said each of the new species not only differed in plumage and size, they also had unique calls. As each owl was introduced, an audio recording of the unique hooting sounds was played.
PBSP Visayas executive committee chairman Jose Antonio Aboitiz capped the event saying “it is very important that we prevent these endangered species from advancing to the next step, which is extinction.”
For more information, you may visit the official Web site of PBCFI at pbcfi.org.ph or facebook.com/pages/Philippines-Biodiversity-Conservation-Foundation-Inc-PBCFI/168714706488297