By ELLALYN B. DE VERA March 28, 2011, 3:46pm MANILA, Philippines -- No wonder Pong Pagong is rarely seen these days.
The Philippine Forest Turtle (Siebenrockiella leytensis), commonly found in Palawan, is now among the 25 endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles in the world, with an extremely high risk of getting extinct, international experts said.
A new report from the Turtle Conservation Coalition, a global alliance of conservation groups, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission's Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (TFTSG) has named the world's 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles, which includes the Philippine Forest Turtle.
This is the third Top 25 listing of most endangered species of tortoises and freshwater turtles, which is in addition to the earlier listed species that are also at very high risk of extinction, according to Turtle Conservation Coalition.
As cited in the 58-page report, the Philippine Forest Turtles habitat is being threatened by slash-and-bur n farming practices, logging, agricultural encroachment, and associated habitat degradation, among others.
Yet, the biggest threat to the Philippine Forest Turtle is its perceived rarity. The demand in the international pet trade surged when it was rediscovered, it said.
Sadly, it continues to be illegally exported from the Philippines in significant numbers, although the species is protected both locally under Philippine law, and its trade regulated internationally by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), it added.
However, the illegal trade of endangered forest turtles remains rampant with the series of confiscations locally and internationally.
Additionally, evidence suggests that some populations of this species have declined in the recent past and that no adults larger than 30 centimeter in carapace length and no hatchlings can be found in some localities, the report pointed out.
Scientists used to believe that the turtle thrives in Leyte where it was first discovered, however recent studies pointed out that the turtle may be found in Palawan.
Today, all evidence suggests that the original description of this species (Siebenrockiella leytensis) as occurring in Leyte was erroneous, although it is possible that early traders had transported some to Leyte and sold them in the market where they were first discovered, it pointed out.
Very little is known about the Philippine Forest Turtle, aside from it inhabits in creeks and small rivers with full canopy and is crepuscular or nocturnal, hiding during the day under the rocks or in deep earthen burrows or natural limestone caves.
The Turtle Conservation Coalition expressed alarm that even before the species can be studied further, it may become extinct, if it would not be protected.
Effective conservation actions for this species will require greater knowledge of the species' natural history, it said.
It also cited the importance of "community-based conservation programs need to be continued to provide effective long-term in-situ protection of the remaining population and their habitats."
In addition, the report highlighted that turtles in Asia have greatly suffered from decades of illegal and unsustainable trade, with 17 of the 25 most endangered turtles being found in Asia.
It noted that without turtles and tortoises the ecosystem and critically-important services to mankind and people's livelihoods would gradually suffer from the loss of biodiversity.