New rodent species in Davao


By Jonathan Mayuga – Flora and fauna-rich Philippines made history again. Scientists confirmed recently that a small rodent found only in Mount Hamiguitan in Davao Oriental and discovered two years ago by the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) and the Chicago-based Field Museum of Natural History is a new species.

The Hamiguitan batomys or Hamiguitan hairy-tailed rat is a yellow-brown animal with a long furry tail, weighs about 175 grams, and is related to several other species in Central Mindanao, Dinagat Island and Luzon. It lives only from an elevation of 950 meters and up in dwarf mossy forests of areas less than 10 square kilometers.

Environment Secretary Lito Atienza said the discovery and confirmation bolster his department’s efforts at protecting and enhancing biodiversity and the preservation of natural resources. “We have long taken great pride in our wealth of flora and fauna, and this new discovery reinforces our efforts to make the protection of these unique and endemic species found in the country our top priority.”

He said experts believe there could be more discoveries of new species in the country, and he worries some of these species may already be threatened with extinction before they are discovered and protected.

Lawrence Heaney, curator of mammals at the Field Museum and coauthor of the Batomys description, said, “The Philippines has one of the largest numbers of unique species of mammals of any place in the world; over 125 mammal species live only in the Philippines. There is truly a wealth of animal and plant life here that is worth protecting.”

Heaney added, “The unusual geological history of Eastern Mindanao leads us to predict that additional species currently unknown to anyone except local residents are likely to live there. Our project with the PEF will attempt to find, formally describe and learn about the habitat needs of these species before logging, mining or other human activities reduce their chances for survival.”

Team leader and lead author Danilo Balete said, “The Hamiguitan batomys is the first mammal to be described from Eastern Mindanao, and is the first mammal that is thought to live only in that area. Most mammals unique to Mindanao were described from Mount Apo or Mount Kitanglad. This points to Eastern Mindanao, especially Mount Hamiguitan, as a biologically unique part of the Philippines.”

The new species was found in May 2006 during an expedition that sought to learn more about the region, which is also home to the globally endangered Philippine Eagle, the country’s national bird.

Dennis Salvador, PEF executive director, said that “Mount Hamiguitan and the rest of Eastern Mindanao is poorly known biologically. Sadly, the region is a mining and logging hotspot.”

“At Mount Hamiguitan, six mining agreements cover more than 17,000 hectares of forest, which is more than half of the mountain’s forest cover. We are working with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Field Museum to learn about the biological diversity and conservation status of the region before habitats get further damaged,” he added.

“Mount Hamiguitan fully deserves to be among the global heritage sites,” said Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau Director Mundita Lim, whose bureau has endorsed the inclusion of Mount Hamiguitan in the Unesco World Heritage List.

Atienza said the people must leave only to government the protection of our natural riches but that they, too, should do their share in making sure our country’s forests and other natural resources such as the sea and the coastal areas are still there for our grandchildren and great grandchildren.

The Philippines has been declared by scientists as one of only a few countries in the world with mega diverse flora and fauna.

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