Rare Sulu bird feared for extinction

Sulu hornbill by Bim Quemado

An intergovernmental organization is calling for the preservation of the vanishing Sulu hornbill, one of the world’s rarest birds and endemic to the Sulu archipelago.

The ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) is partnering with the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation (PBCF) and the local government units of Tawi-Tawi in a project aiming to save the bird from extinction. “Sulu hornbills have a genetic connection with other hornbills that can be found in other countries in Southeast Asia,” said ACB Executive Director Theresa Mundita-Lim in a statement released on Thursday.

Sulu hornbill (scientific name: Anthracoceros montani) is facing “the possibility of imminent extinction” mainly due to the destruction of its forest home, according to Birdlife International and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The bird’s natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests, states Wikipedia. Among those that the bird eats include fruit, insects and small lizards.

Only 27 of these birds are left in the wild and most of them can now be seen only in the island of Panglima Sugala, a municipality of Tawi-Tawi.

“Tawi-Tawi lies along the borders of the faunal regions of the Philippines and Wallacea— a place of wonder, a living laboratory for the study of evolution, a melting pot for faunal genetic diversity,” she Lisa Paguntalan, head of the PBCF.

More than 60% of the remaining forests in Tawi-Tawi are concentrated in Panglima Sugala, which Dr. Mundita-Lim has visited recently.

“The beautiful islands of Tawi-Tawi, with most of the vegetation still intact, are known to host terrestrial birds and endemic and migratory water birds. However, the knowledge that we have about them, including their behavior and distribution pattern, is limited,” she said.

Dr. Mundita-Lim said the ACB, as it taps into Tawi-Tawi’s biodiversity, hopes to gain a deeper understanding of the evolution of species in the rest of ASEAN.

She said the baseline knowledge from Tawi-Tawi will have a significant impact on the ongoing biodiversity conservation on a regional level.