Much of that remains true despite strains and encroachment of modern life on these 7,107 islands and islets rimmed with crystalline blue-green water, white sand beaches, and spectacular coral gardens. Bustling cities have arisen—but rich forest and coastal ecosystems have been set aside. Almost a third of the islands remain uninhabited. Only about 500 are larger than a half-milesquare (1 km2), and 2,500 aren’t even named.
Birds here include species seldom or never found elsewhere—great scops owls, Philippine cockatoos, and superb, highly endangered Philippine monkey-eating eagles, one of the world’s largest and most spectacular birds of prey. These formidable birds, called by Charles Lindbergh “air’s noblest fliers”, with great, fearsome, feathered mantles—perhaps 100 still in existence—easily capture and consume monkeys. They also dine, unfortunately, on rare small mammals such as Philippine flying lemurs, flying fox bats, and fist-sized tabius and tarsiers, world’s tiniest primates, all also on the endangered list and likely to remain so while they stay in eagles’ range. Fierce small binturongs or bear-cats, rare also, usually can defend themselves.
Many other notable small species are here—red mouse deer of Palawan, world’s smallest red deer; sinarapan, less than a half-inch (1 cm) long in Luzon’s Lake Buhi, world’s smallest edible fish; tamaraw, dwarf short-horned wild buffaloes in the Mindoro Mountains.
Endangered hawksbill and green sea turtles scour out nests on white sand beaches. A rainbow array of tropical fish and crustaceans inhabit magnificent coral reef gardens. Philippines oysters produce pearls coveted for exceptional size, quality, and luster.
Large-scale logging after World War II accompanied by widespread slash-and-burn cultivation caused significant environmental damage to the Philippines as in other Southeast Asian countries. Species previously vulnerable became extinct. Forest cover on larger islands remains only on rugged mountain tops, which have become plant and wildlife havens. Erosion in lower areas led to soil loss, climatic effects, and floods and mudslides that killed thousands and finally aroused public concern, leading to reexamination of environmental policies and a ban on deforestation. A government Department of Environment and Natural Resources was formed, along with citizens’ environmental groups. Much remains to be done—river clean-up, a ban on fishing with cyanide and dynamite and taking of endangered species or their parts for food, medicinal trade or pets, and enforcement of existing environmental laws.
Much also remains to be saved—some 580 bird species (including 135 threatened or endangered, third highest, with China, of any country in the world), 100 mammals, 300 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, and uncounted insects that include at least 850 kinds of butterflies and moths, many endemic to just one or two islands. Plants have thrived in the rich volcanic soil, and there are more than 10,000 kinds of trees, flowering shrubs, and gigantic vines and ferns, with more than 900 orchid species in rain forests, mountains, fertile lowlands, and chalky coastal woodlands.
Philippines weather is hot and humid year-round, with seasonal variations over the islands and an average 20 typhoons a year, most (but not all) in August–November. Best times generally are drier December–May.
International jets fly to Manila and Cebu. Inexpensive air passes are available for internal travel (book flights well ahead). Busses and taxis go almost everywhere on major islands. Ferries run between most islands, though they are not regarded as the safest, most comfortable way to travel. Most towns have a range of accommodations.
Terrorist incidents have prompted travel warnings so it is well to inquire about current conditions before finalizing trip plans.
Several dozen national parks and reserves have been set aside, most because of public pressure. Many need to be larger to effectively protect species. All of them together include less than 1.3 percent of land area, far less than most other countries, small or large, around the world. All need support. Visitors can help simply by signing guest books and hiring guides.
MOUNT APO NATIONAL PARK as well as...
Philippine Eagle Nature Center
OTHER PALAWAN RESERVES as well as...
Mount Iglit (Ilig)-Mount Baco Sanctuary
Mount Kanlaon National Park
Quezon National Park
Kitanglad National Park
More about the Reserves in Philippines
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