Davao Oriental’s Mt. Hamiguitan Wildlife Sanctuary inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage List

The Philippines got its sixth World Heritage Site with the inclusion of the Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary in Davao Oriental recently.

This forest sanctuary and mountain ranges joined five other protected areas in the Philippines which have been inscribed in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List.

The five other World Heritage Sites in the Philippines include Tubbataha Reef; Philippine Baroque Churches (San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Santa Maria Church  in Ilocos Sur,  Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte and Miag-ao Church); Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan; Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras (Batad Rice Terraces, Bangaan Rice Terraces, Hungduan Rice Terraces, Mayoyao Central Rice Terraces, Nagacadan Rice Terraces); and Historic City of Vigan in Ilocos Sur.

After deliberating on the 40 globally nominated sites during the committee’s 38th session in Doha, Qatar from June 15 to 25 this year, the World Heritage Committee inscribed Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary to the World Heritage List together with the following: Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex (Russian Federation); Precolumbian Chiefdom Settlements  with Stone Spheres of the Diquis (Costa Rica); Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex (Viet Nam); Great Himalayan National Park (India); and Stevns Klint (Denmark).

Mt. Hamiguitan was first nominated in 2013 but failed to get the nod of the World Heritage Committee.

The WHC, which operates under the UNESCO, identifies sites “of outstanding universal values” for inclusion in the list.

That the sites should be a significant natural habitat for endangered wildlife is another criteria for inclusion to the  World Heritage list.

In a statement, the World Heritage Committee said Mt. Hamiguitan “provides critical habitat for a range of plant and animal species,”  eight of which are found only in the mountain range.

“Mount Hamiguitan presents the highest and richest bio-diversity in terms of flora and fauna per unit area having unique, rare and threatened endemic species of outstanding universal value,” UNESCO said.

Citing data from Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources and Development (PCARRD, UNESCO said Hamiguitan is home to five endangered species, 27 rare species, 44 endemic species and 59 economically important species.

UNESCO’s website further said that Hamiguitan belongs to the 15 biogeographic zones in the Philippines considered to have the highest land-based biological diversity in terms of flora and fauna per unit area.

Declared a national park and a wildlife sanctuary in 2003 and a protected area under Philippine laws in 2004, the Mount Hamiguitan range has one of the most diverse wildlife populations in the country.

Mt. Hamiguitan is known for its unique 600-hectare bonsai or “pygmy” forest which includes 100-year-old trees. The trees, which have an average height of only 1.4 meters cover some 225 hectares of the sanctuary.

It is also home to 1,380 species of flora and fauna, of which 341 are endemic and endangered. The mountain range is one of the habitats of the endangered Philippine eagle, which UNESCO said is “of outstanding universal value for science and conservation” as the world’s second largest eagle.

It is also home to the  Philippine cockatoo, Philippine tarsier, Philippine crown deer, Giant Golden-crowned Flying Fox, Philippine Forest Roundleaf Bat, Philippine Warty Pig, Tawitawi Brown-dove,  Giant Scops-owl or Mindanao Eagle-owl,  and Asian palm civet, among others.

An inventory of flora species in the mountain range showed  that the forest has the highest species richness of plants with 462 species, followed by its dipterocarp forest with 338 species, mossy forest with 246 species and agro-system with 246 species that include  the Shorea polysperma, Shorea astylosa, and orchid Paphiopedilum adductum.

The sanctuary’s inclusion in the list of UN-protected heritage sites boosts the country’s status as 7th of the 17 biologically rich countries of the world.

The people who worked behind the scenes for the inclusion of Mt. Hamiguitan to the World Heritage List include UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines Chair, and Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario, and Secretary General Dr. Virginia A. Miralao, Philippine Permanent Delegate to UNESCO Ambassador to France Christina G. Ortega and Davao Oriental Governor Corazon N. Malanyaon, and Vice Governor Joel Mayo Z. Almario.

The latest inscriptions in the World Heritage List bring the total number of sites to 1,007. (Tawid News Team)