In the southernmost part of the Philippines are clusters of smaller islands recognized as global biodiversity hotspots: Sulu and Tawi-Tawi archipelago. At least five Critically Endangered and four Endangered birds are known to occur only on these islands and nowhere else in the world. This includes the Critically Endangered Sulu hornbill Anthracoceros montani or locally known as “tawsi”. Tawsi used to occur in Jolo, Sanga-Sanga and Tawi-Tawi islands but now occupies only 40% of its original distribution range.
Much of the remaining forest in Tawi-Tawi Island is concentrated in the town of Panglima Sugala. In the last five years, each visit is welcomed by an average of three – four Sulu hornbills with the highest number reported totaling to 10 individuals in 2014. For a long time, the people of Panglima Sugala were the lone frontliners in conserving its biodiversity. They are the reason why there are still Sulu hornbills in Tawi-Tawi.
In 2017, led by Mayor Regie Sahali – Generale, the local government of Panglima Sugala explored collaboration and established strong partnerships with concerned agencies and non-government organizations including Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., Hornbill Research Foundation, Birding Adventure Philippines, Armed Forces of the Philippines – Leadership Development Center and Protect Wildlife Project of USAID. Together, a Tawsi conservation campaign was conducted including rapid site assessments, school and community lectures, community consultations, learning visits of key community leaders to protected areas, conduct of community-based bio-monitoring training and workshop as well as strategic meetings with key government offices of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. Panglima Sugala also created the Tawi-Tawi Advocates for Wildlife Support Initiative (TAWSI) in 2018. Their functions are geared toward securing Tawsi or Sulu Hornbill habitat and the protection of the Upper Malum Watershed. To date, breeding pairs of Sulu Hornbills had been reported, agreements with local community leaders on securing forests habitats for Sulu hornbill had been secured and on-site conservation campaign are sustained.
Last March 4-5, 2019, IUCN Conservation Planning Group together with Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., Wildlife Reserve Singapore, Hornbill Research Foundation Inc., Protect Wildlife Project of USAID, Hornbill Species Specialists Group, and Birding Adventure Philippines organized the Sulu Hornbill Species Action planning workshop. The Tawi-Tawi Biodiversity Conservation Framework Plan developed last 15 December 2017 by key community leaders from Upper Malum of Barangay Magsagaw, Panglima Sugala, representatives from Panglima Sugala local government; DENR ARMM (PENRO Tawi-Tawi and CENROs Bongao and Panglima Sugala); DENR PENRO Zamboanga Sibugay, DENR Region 6, Mindanao State University - Tawi-Tawi College of Technology and Oceanography, Provincial Government of Tawi-Tawi, Protect Wildlife Project of USAID and Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. and Biodiversity Management Bureau of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (BMB-DENR) were incorporated in the IUCN Sulu Hornbill Species Action Plan.
Following the development of the Sulu Hornbill Species Action Plan, Protect Wildlife Project of USAID, ASEAN Center for Biodiversity (ACB), Los Angeles Zoo and North Carolina Zoo provided support for the conduct of species population surveys, community-based monitoring program, advocacy and awareness activities under the Tawi-Tawi Biodiversity Conservation Sub-program of PhilBio. This project is conducted in partnership with LGU Panglima Sugala, Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Energy (MENRE) through Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) Tawi-Tawi, Tawi-Tawi Advocates for Wildlife Support Initiative (TAWSI) Rangers, Biodiversity Management Bureau, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Office Region 9; Armed Forces of the Philippines – Leadership Development Center, Art1st Garments, Birding Adventure Philippines, Hornbill Research Foundation and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
The future of Tawsi lies with the Bangsamoro people. They have started the conservation movement and their cohesiveness as people, their remarkable accomplishments, and their continued resolve to conserve the remaining unique biodiversity, deserves global recognition. Now with the different organizations supporting their initiatives, the global community stands with them in saving Tawsi.
Project: Project Tawsi (Sulu Hornbill)
Official Title: Tawi-Tawi Biodiversity Conservation Project
Partners: Municipality of Panglima Sugala; Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Energy of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (MENRE-BARMM) through PENRO Tawi-Tawi, Protect Wildlife Project of USAID; Biodiversity Management Bureau, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Office Region 9; Armed Forces of the Philippines – Leadership Development Center, Art1st Garments, Birding Adventure Philippines, Hornbill Research Foundation, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Los Angeles Zoo, North Carolina Zoo
Photo credits: Bim Quemado and Philip Godfrey Jakosalem