The Philippines houses two-thirds of the earth’s biodiversity. However, the archipelago nation has a growing number of threatened species whose populations have been dwindling over the years. Numbers have been worsening for endemic animals such as the Philippine eagle, the tamaraw, and the Hawksbill turtle, all classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered species.
Tagged as a biodiversity hotspot with at least 700 threatened species, the Philippines is considered a top global conservation priority area in the world. While the government, through its Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), has been on the heels of illegal wildlife traders, there is so much more that needs to be done in taking care of the country’s endemic and native species.
The alarming statistics might be a lot for a younger demographic in the Philippines to take in, but Filipina mother, Anya Santos-Uy, believes that there is a “fun and simple way” to promote animal and plant conservation to young kids. A former member of an eagle conservation organization, the mother of two launched a new alphabet book that features the country's unique flora and fauna from "A to Z."
Titled Alpabeto ng Kalikasan, the publication presents species in both English and Filipino, comes with colorful illustrations and incorporated in every artwork is the ancient script from the precolonial era the Baybayin. The idea struck Anya when she noticed that her son and daughter instantly recognized giraffes, elephants, and lions on their clothes and toys but did not know much about the pawikan, the Philippine eagle, or the musang which are found in their country.
When asked about what her children thought of the book, she was happy to share that her 3-year-old daughter can now correctly say “alitaptap” which translates to “firefly” in Tagalog.
The book comes at a critical moment. The condition of Philippine wildlife hasn’t improved the latest figures reveal in the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau’s 2020 Philippine Red List of Threatened Wild Fauna: Part I Vertebrates. It identifies 168 threatened mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibian species; up from 110 in 2004.
Although it may seem like the country's biodiversity is doing better amid the extended lockdown, as there have been reports of wildlife running freely in the metro, wildlife biologist, Djop Tabaranza, thinks otherwise.
"At first glance, this might seem that our biodiversity is recovering but it is most likely the effect of reduced human disturbance in habitats near highly urbanized areas,” he said.
According to him, the greatest threat to Philippine wildlife is the loss of natural habitats because of logging, mining, poaching, and collecting species for trade, among others. He hopes Alpabeto ng Kalikasan will build awareness, while teaching the “Filipino youth to appreciate and learn more about our own biodiversity.”
Meanwhile, Early Education Professor Marie Yvette C. Alcazar, who reviewed the children’s book, said, “I think that this knowledge is sadly neglected by parents and teachers, but we need to give importance to this because it is part of our culture and being as Filipinos.”
Right now, the themes of local wildlife and biodiversity are found in only a handful of Filipino children’s books, “Personally, I think there should be more,” Alcazar said.