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In Candaba swamp, birds are friends

/ 08:20 PM February 21, 2012

No hunting. No shooting. These are the rules that protect birds, whether domestic or migratory, in Candaba, Pampanga, says Lucas Sebastian.

Tillers, says this 71-year-old farmer, have also allowed birds to live amid them, planting weeds for their food. The unruly ones are warded away from cash crops and fishponds through firecrackers and plastic strings.

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And as Sebastian has observed in the last five years, no exotic bird has been sold in the public market, an indication that his townmates have learned to dull their appetite for adobong dumara (wild duck).

In between the five years, only three incidents of bird hunting have taken place, done not by Candaba folk but by residents from nearby towns. Of those three incidents, one reached the court, says town administrator Leny Manalo.

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“We have not been getting alerts [on bird hunting and killing] because residents [don’t do these since they] are fully aware that these activities are banned in the town,” Supt. Henry Flores, the town police chief, says.

Behavioral change

The behavioral change—from consumers to conservationists—came over time, says Mayor Jerry Pelayo.

For Sebastian, the conversion began through the birds.

“They were few, mostly tagak (heron) until about 1990. You can’t ignore them anymore because they came in droves during cold months starting October to February,” he says. They fly thousands of miles to escape winter and to ensure the growth of their population.

The growing flocks, including the coming of rare species, gave signs that Candaba was becoming globally important to conservation efforts, Pelayo says. To ensure this, the local government had to legislate bird conservation through Resolution No. 51 in 2004.

Sponsored by Councilor Pedro Guevarra, the resolution declared the portion of the 33,000-hectare Candaba swamp in the town as a bird sanctuary. The swamp, a natural flood catchment, also straddles Nueva Ecija and Bulacan.

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The resolution complements a 2003 resolution that declared Candaba as a “freshwater, aquaculture resource and fish sanctuary zone for the purpose of protecting and preserving its flora and fauna.”

Ecotourism boost

According to the 2004 resolution, these declarations  “bolster the [town’s] quest of harnessing and developing its ecotourism potential.”

Awareness building was done through village councils and schools.

Pelayo and his wife, Lani, supported the town’s thrust by not cultivating their 70-ha ponds and farms in Barangay Vizal San Pablo. These became one of the favorite habitats of the birds.

In just a few years, Candaba has secured its niche in the tourism map as a regular birdwatching destination, leading to jobs and other economic opportunities for residents.

Tying up this aim and the good returns of environment-friendly agricultural production, the local government mounted the Ibon-Ebun (Bird-Egg) Festival every first week of February.

However, bird killing marred the eve of the celebration of the fifth year of the festival this month. The police arrested Herbert Jacobe for shooting 12 dumara that are listed as vulnerable species in Philippine environmental laws.

It took a farm worker, Joren de la Cruz, to get Jacobe to face the crime. Jacobe is facing charges for violating Republic Act No. 9147 (Conservation and Protection of Wildlife Resources Act) before the sala of Judge Lysander Montemayor of the Santa Ana-Candaba municipal trial court. Jacobe posted a P12,000 bail bond for his temporary liberty.

“The amount [of the penalty] is little but our point here is that you really can land in jail if you kill birds,” Pelayo says. “Protecting birds and other wildlife is a serious business in Candaba.”

Protecting birds and other wildlife is a serious business in this Pampanga town.

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TAGS: Candaba Swamp, ecotourism, Migratory birds, News, Regions
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