Despite being one of the few countries in the world with an amazingly high biodiversity, Philippines today has only 7% of the original old-growth forest cover. The chain of 7,100 islands covering an area of 297,179 sq km were once covered with lowland rainforests, montane and mossy forests and small patches of seasonal forest, mixed forest and savanna and pine dominated cloud forest.
With 9,253 plant, 535 bird, 167 mammal, 237 reptile, 89 amphibian, 281 freshwater fish and nearly 21,000 insect species, the islands are one of the world's most biologically richest regions. Nearly 150 species of palms, two-thirds of which are not found anywhere else, 1,000 species of orchids and many canopy trees, make the rainforests of Philippines resonate with life and colour.
Several species of birds that are threatened include the scarlet-collared flowerpecker (Dicaeum retrocinctum), Cebu flowerpecker (Dicaeum quadricolor), Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia), Visayan wrinkled hornbill (Aceros waldeni) and the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi). The hotspot has on of the highest levels of endemism for mammals. Endemic mammalian inhabitants found here are the tamaraw or dwarf water buffalo (Bubalus mindorensis), Philippine warty pigs (Sus philippensisi), the Visayan (Sus cebifrons), Calamianes hog-deer (Axis calamaniensis) and the world's largest bat-the golden-capped fruit bat (Acerodon jubatus). The endemic freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis), flying lizards of the genus Draco, Gray's monitor (Varanus olivaceus), Varanus mabitang a newly discovered monitor lizard and the Philippine pond turtle (Heosemys leytensis) are some of the island's endangered reptiles. An interesting amphibian species is the panther flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis) that has special adaptations for flying.
Decades of extensive logging has left several rare species of plants, animals, birds and insects on the brink of extinction. Added to this, a population of over 80 million people dependent on forests for their livelihood makes biodiversity conservation work in Philippines a tough proposition. Other threats include mining and land conversion. Introduction of many invasive species of marine life have disturbed the delicate biodiversity equilibrium of the wetlands. Species like the giant catfish, black bass, the marine toad (Bufo marinus), the American bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana), leopard frog (Rana tigrina), water hyacinth and water fern have adversely impacted the wetlands.
Only 11% or 32,404 sq km of the land area in Philippines is protected. Besides government supported initiatives, conservation groups active in Philippines include the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, Conservation International and Haribon Foundation.
[The information has been sourced from the Conservation International website on biodiversity hotspots (www.biodiversityhotspots.org). Accessed in February 2008.]