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Crocodile-friendly villages in The Philippines

Situation

The Philippine Crocodile is a small freshwater crocodile endemic to the Philippines. Although it is officially protected by law, its population has decreased enormously because of poaching, destructive fishing methods and a degrading habitat. With an estimated wild population of fewer than 100 mature animals, the Philippine crocodile has been classified as Critically Endangered by IUCN.

About the applicant

The Mabuwaya Foundation hopes to create an environmentally sound future for both people and crocodiles in remote San Mariano, in the province of Isabela, Philippines. The foundation has been working with the leaders and village councils (known as barangays) to raise awareness of this issue.

About the application (2010)

The foundation has been organising law enforcement training for village council members to improve local environmental law enforcement. Part of the training involves using 3-D scale models of the area to show local people where the crocodiles can be found and why they are an important part of the ecosystem. Because local people have become more aware of the need to protect these reptiles, poaching has stopped and three new crocodile sanctuaries have been established since 2004, and are being well-managed.

Unfortunately, recent developments in the northern Sierra Madre region pose serious new threats to the crocodiles and rural communities. A boom in corn and bio-fuel feedstock production has lead to agricultural intensification. This industry is destroying the last few fragments of riparian forest that serve as breeding sites for crocodiles. Growing support to conserve wetlands and watersheds exists, but rural communities lack both knowledge and capacity. Village leaders have complained that they receive inadequate support from supra-local government agencies to enforce environmental legislation and have insufficient funds to implement sustainable development programmes.

The Mabuwaya Foundation’s solution: to establish a Crocodile-Friendly Barangay Initiative, inspired by UNICEF’s successful Child-Friendly Barangay Initiative in the Philippines. The goal of this project is to get community involvement in the conservation of critical wetlands and watersheds on which both people and crocodiles depend. The Mabuwaya Foundation would also help these local communities to develop sustainable wetland- and watershed management plans.

Intended results

The Crocodile-Friendly Barangay Initiative should result in site-specific land use plans for critical wetlands and watersheds. These crocodile-friendly land use plans will be integrated into the municipal and provincial land use plans. Billboards will be used to educate local people about crocodile conservation. A Crocodile-Friendly Barangay Day will be held: a festive event during which crocodiles raised in captivity will be released back into the wild. Communities will also be able to present their land use plans to local government officials, politicians and the media during the event. The ultimate aim was to have 101 non-hatchling Philippine crocodiles in San Mariano by 2011.

Actual results

Two crocodile attacks on local people in 2010 created a sticky situation, when the municipal council of San Mariano demanded assurances that these incidents would not happen again. The super-typhoon Megi and the devastating flood that followed was another set-back for the project. It hit the province of Isabela and caused enormous damage.

In spite of these obstacles, the project has achieved remarkable results: workshops were conducted in seven villages and attended by 375 people, including Barangay officials, representatives from different sectors, local villagers and farmers occupying lands near the crocodile- and fish sanctuaries. Some of the farmers even designed their own agroforestry plans. Those plans will be integrated into the Municipality of San Mariano’s land use plans, just like the management plans that were created by the local communities with the help of the Mabuwaya Foundation. Thirty billboards now offer information about the Philippine crocodile, existing laws and Barangay ordinances. They seem to have a very positive effect, because local communities are now complying with crocodile- and fish sanctuary ordinances.

It is not clear whether the set target of 101 non-hatchling crocodiles has been reached yet, but on Crocodile-Friendly Barangay Day, 19 crocodiles were released back into the wild. For further updates on this project, please visit the Mabuwaya Foundation website: http://www.mabuwaya.org/

Photo: Mabuwaya.org