A Look into the Wildlife of the Last Ecological Frontier
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Birds of Palawan
Of the 279 bird species found in Palawan, 27 are endemic to the Philippines. Notable species include the Palawan hornbill, Palawan peacock pheasant, Palawan scops owl, and Palawan flycatcher.
The Palawan hornbill, also known as Talusi in the Filipino language, is a forest-dwelling bird that measures about 80cm in length. Its plumage is predominantly black with a white tail, dark green gloss on its upper parts, and a large creamy white beak with a casque typical of the hornbill family.
Endemic to Palawan, it is one of the nine species of hornbills found in the Philippines. Most visiting birdwatchers travel to St. Paul’s National Park in Palawan to see the Palawan hornbill, but the species has become rare.
It serves as a bio-indicator due to its high sensitivity to environmental changes. It is currently classified as “vulnerable,” and its population has decreased by at least 20% in the last 10 years due to various factors such as habitat destruction, hunting for food, and the live bird trade.
The Palawan hornbill is usually seen in pairs or small family groups and has a communal roosting site. It is mostly observed in fruiting trees at the forest edge but also feeds on insects and small reptiles.
Palawan Peacock Pheasant
The Palawan peacock pheasant is a medium-sized bird belonging to the Phasianidae family, measuring up to 50cm in length. It is featured prominently in the culture of the indigenous people of Palawan.
The adult males are the most beautiful, with an erectile crest and highly iridescent electric blue-violet, metallic green-turquoise dorsal plumage. Their breast and ventral regions are black, with wide, flat, and rigid metrics; their terminal edges are squared.
Each tail plume and upper-tail covert is marked with highly iridescent, light-reflective ocelli. The tail is erected and expanded laterally together with the bodies of the birds. The male also raises one wing and lowers the other, laterally compressing the body during pair-bonding, courtship displays, and as an antipredator adaptation.
The female peacock is slightly smaller than the male, with cloudy silt-colored contour plumage. The mantle and the breast are dark sepia in color, with retrices similar to those of the male, exhibiting marked adumbrations and stunning ocelli. Their plumage is earthy throughout, making it difficult to distinguish between the substrate and branches. Like the male, the female has a short crest and is whitish on the throat, cheeks, and eyebrows.
The chicks are vivid ginger and cinnamon-hued with prominent yellow markings. Juveniles of both sexes in the first year closely resemble their mothers.
Subadult males start to closely resemble their fathers in their second year, but their mantles and wing coverts are marked with adumbrations analogous to the ocelli in the contour plumage of other peacock pheasant species.
Like other peacock pheasants, Palawan males and some females exhibit multiple spurs on their metatarsus, which they use in antipredator defense, foraging in leaf litter, and contests with other males.
The male Palawan peacock pheasants excavate slight depressions in which they orient their bodies during postural display behaviors. The bird vibrates loudly through the stridulation of retrice quills. This communicative signal is audible and is also a form of seismic communication. The Palawan peacock pheasants are strong fliers, capable of flying swiftly, directly, and for extended periods.
Palawan Scops Owl
The Palawan Scops Owl is an owl species endemic to Palawan. There are indications that this species has a small population and a limited range that is in decline due to forest loss.
These rare owls occur naturally in southwestern Philippines, specifically in the province of Palawan and adjacent islands of Alabangin and Balabac, with an unconfirmed report from Calauit.
Populations of this species have been recorded in Kinalaykayan and Dicabaitot, Saint Paul’s Subterranean River National Park, Cleopatra’s Needle, Buenavista, Iwahig Penal Colony, vicinity of Puerto Princesa, Quezon, Singnapan at Kabasakan, Pinikpikan and Tining-luan, Tagusao, Mt. Matalingahan, and Tigwayan in Bataraza, all in the province of Palawan.
They are believed to be sedentary and are mostly found in lowland forests but can adapt to human-modified habitats as long as trees are present. They are relatively small, measuring about 19cm in length.
Their upper plumage is dark reddish-brown with black wave patterns. The facial disk is light rufous, and they have a pale collar on the back of the neck, dark below with buff spots. Their bill is hill-colored, and their feet are greyish-yellow, while their eyes’ irises are orange-brown.
The Palawan flycatcher belongs to the Muscicapidae family and is endemic to Palawan. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, which are now threatened by habitat loss.
The Palawan flycatcher is 12 centimeters in length and has a short tail. It has a rufescent-brown head and upperparts, becoming bright chestnut on its upper tail coverts and tail.
It has greyish lores, and its eyes appear large and dark, with a pale orange throat that grades into brighter orange as it goes down to its breast, while its lower breast and belly are white.
Terrestrial Mammals of Palawan
There are almost 60 species of terrestrial mammals recorded in Palawan, 33% of which are endemic to the Philippines. Among these species are the Palawan bearcat, Palawan leopard cat, and Palawan flying squirrel.
The Palawan bearcat, also known as the Palawan binturong, is a subspecies of binturong that is endemic to Palawan.
The Palawan bearcat can grow up to 1.4 meters in length and is characterized by ears lined with white fur and long white whiskers that can be as long as the length of its head. Although generally docile when handled, they have sharp claws and teeth that can easily tear through flesh.
The Palawan bearcat is able to suspend itself by curling its strong prehensile tail around branches. It has a vertically oriented pupil which indicates that it is nocturnal. Its coarse, thick black-brown fur helps to camouflage it in dense vegetation in the forest canopy to escape predators.
The Palawan bearcat inhabits thick vegetation in lowland forests of Palawan where it feeds on both plants and animals, such as rodents and birds.
Palawan Leopard Cat
The Palawan leopard cat is a small wild cat native to South and East Asia that is now threatened by habitat loss. Leopard cat subspecies differ widely in fur color, tail length, skull shape, and size of carnassials.
A leopard cat is about the size of a domestic cat but is more slender with longer legs and well-defined webs between its toes. Its small head is marked with two prominent dark stripes and a short and narrow white muzzle. There are also two dark stripes running from the eyes to the ears and smaller white streaks running from the eyes to the nose. The backs of its moderately long and rounded ears are black with central white spots.
Its body and limbs are marked with black spots that vary in shape and size. Along with its back are two to four rows of elongated spots. The tail of the leopard cat is about half the size of its head-body length and is spotted with a few indistinct rings near the black tip.
The background color of its spotted fur is tawny, with a white chest and belly. The fur color is yellowish-brown in southern populations, while the northern ones have pale silver-grey colored fur. Leopard cats in the Sundaic region are darker and have smaller spots and shorter tails than those in mainland Asia.
Palawan Flying Squirrel
Hylopetes nigripes, commonly known as the Palawan flying squirrel or Bising, is a species of rodent in the Sciuridae family. It is endemic to Palawan and naturally inhabits subtropical or tropical dry forests.
Palawan flying squirrels are found in various areas in the southern regions of Palawan, attracted by the numerous coconut trees where they jump around to gather food.
The forests of Palawan provide sanctuary for 24 unique species of reptiles, including the Palawan monitor lizard, which can grow up to two meters in length.
Palawan Monitor Lizard
Endemic to Palawan, the Palawan monitor lizard is a distinct species from the closely related water monitor, marble water monitor, and Varanus rasmusseni. This monitor lizard, locally known as bayawak, is the largest carnivorous monitor lizard in the country and is highly opportunistic, feeding on mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish, crabs, insects, and even dead animals or its own kind. It is also known to prey on sea turtle eggs. This species is capable of climbing trees, swimming long distances, and holding its breath for up to half an hour.
Crocodiles are dangerous animals that inhabit rivers where ocean water meets freshwater. In Palawan, there have been reports of crocodile attacks in various municipalities. In response to these attacks, captured crocodiles are immediately brought to the Crocodile Farm in Puerto Princesa. Crocodiles play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of Philippine ecosystems, particularly wetlands. Due to the high number of crocodiles caught in the wild, crocodile farming has been established in the province. Two species of Philippine crocodiles are raised: the Philippine saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) and the Philippine freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis). Crocodile farming in Palawan aims to rescue and conserve both species, particularly the endangered Crocodylus mindorensis.
The giant gecko, also known as the “Tokay Gecko,” is a nocturnal arboreal gecko that inhabits rainforest trees and cliffs across Southeast Asia, from northeast India to western New Guinea. This species frequently adapts to rural habitations, roaming walls and ceilings at night in search of insect prey. The Tokay Gecko is the second largest known species of geckos, reaching lengths of about 30-50 centimeters. Males are brightly colored with a bluish or grayish body and spots ranging from light yellow to bright red, while females are less colorful. Their large brown to greenish brown or orange or yellow eyes have vertical slit pupils.
Males are territorial and will attack other male Tokays, as well as other gecko species or anything else in their territory. They are solitary and only meet during the mating season. Tokay Geckos feed on insects and other vertebrates, and their strong bites are needed to crack the shells of hard cockroaches that live in the rainforest. They are strong climbers, and their foot pads can support their entire weight on a vertical surface for an extended period without any effort. Compared to other gecko species, the Tokay Gecko has a robust build, with a semi-prehensile tail, a large head, and muscular jaws capable of inflicting a painful bite,
Palawan is home to a variety of butterfly species, but one in particular has gained fame due to its rarity and uniqueness.
The forests of Cleopatra’s Needle are home to one of the largest butterflies in the world, the Palawan birdwing, which has a wingspan of 20 centimeters.
The Palawan birdwing, also known as the Tringle birdwing, is endemic to Palawan and is one of only two species in its genus. The male Palawan birdwing has narrower green bands on the hindwings.
This species of butterfly can be observed flying around Palawan at any time of the year. The majestic birdwing Trogonoptera trojana alone is worth seeing in Palawan!