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29 Sep 2016

Sanctuary declared for elusive oriole once believed extinct

Isabela Oriole © Merlijn van Weerd
Isabela Oriole © Merlijn van Weerd
By Alex Dale

With its yellow and olive-green plumage perfectly camouflaging it against the tree canopies, the Isabela Oriole Oriolus isabellae, a lowland forest specialist endemic to the island of Luzon in the Philippines, doesn't intend for itself to be seen by humans. And unfortunately, for many decades it wasn't.

Due to the rapid and widespread deforestation which has plucked Luzon of much of its forest cover (down as much as 83% since the 1930s in some areas), numbers of this little-known species plummeted such that for a time until its rediscovery in December 1993, it was widely believed to have gone extinct.

Today we know there are still a few small populations clinging to survival, but the species is still at dire risk of extinction due to the ongoing loss and fragmentation of its forest habitat. In recent years Isabela Oriole has been recorded in only five scattered locations throughout the island, and with an estimated population of just 50-249 adults remaining, it richly deserves its current IUCN Red List rating of Critically Endangered.

Due to its scarcity, little is known about the Isabela Oriole's feeding and nesting habits, and even its call was not officially recorded until 2003. However, the species finally received some much-needed visibility thanks to a project made possible through funding and support from the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP).

Project ORIS (a contraction of the Isabela Oriole’s scientific name) sees a team of young conservationists partner with Isabela State University and the Mabuwaya Foundation to secure the species' survival. The project's objective is to survey all remaining areas of suitable habitat on Luzon, create a conservation strategy and launch an awareness-raising campaign for the elusive bird, including promoting it as a flagship species for the remaining forests that are essential to the long-term survival of both it and various other species that share its dwindling habitat.

Project ORIS has helped to raise awareness of the Isabela Oriole's plight amongst local communities © Joni Acay

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Project ORIS has helped to raise awareness of the Isabela Oriole's plight amongst local communities © Joni Acay

The project was set in motion in 2012 when the team received a Future Conservationist Award from the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP), a grant that enables young conservationists to undertake projects across Africa, Asia & the Pacific, South America and Eurasia. The programme works to build the leadership capacity of young conservation professionals working on important habitats and species in places with limited capacity. A partnership between BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International and the Wildlife Conservation Society, the programme goes beyond grant giving because of its support and mentoring, alumni network and inclusion of valuable stakeholder and community interaction in all successful projects.

Several years of painstaking efforts from those involved with the ORIS Project paid off this August when local officials in Santa Margarita in the municipality of Baggao declared a 5,500-hectare tract of forest as a wildlife sanctuary. The declaration will protect habitat critical not only to the Isabela Oriole, but also to other threatened endemic species, including the spectacular Philippine Eagle Pithecophaga jefferyi. This iconic bird of prey, one of the world’s largest raptors, has also benefited from CLP support in the past.

This showcases the real and long-term impact the CLP programme can have, not only in terms of conservation objectives, but also in the capacity building of young conservationists and organisations. The CLP offers grants and support to numerous projects every year, with 18 projects successfully applying for grants in the 2016 cycle, with target species ranging from dugongs in Mozambique to cloud forest frogs in Mexico.

Many BirdLife Partners have been able to carry out vital work thanks to grants from the CLP in recent years. The CLP’s focus is on building the conservation capacity of individuals from low-income, biodiversity-rich countries where the need and potential for impact is greatest, and 80% of eligible countries within the BirdLife partnership have previously received grants. Thanks to CLP’s input, great strides have been made in the conservation of Critically Endangered species such as the Araripe Manakin (Antilophia bokermanni) in Brazil and Liben Lark (Heteromirafra archeri) in Ethiopia.

The programme is now accepting proposals for 2017. The project countries supported are currently: Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Brazil, China, Egypt, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Mozambique, Oman, South Africa, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, UAE and Vietnam. The full team is not required to be from these countries - for the full list of eligibility criteria, visit the CLP grants page.

There are three levels of conservation team awards:

Future Conservationist Awards: Up to $12,500 per project.
Conservation Follow-Up Awards: Up to $20,000 per project and available only to previous CLP Future Conservationist Award winners.
Conservation Leadership Awards: Up to $40,000 per project and available only to previous CLP Follow-Up Award winners.

Award winners get additional support to implement their project with a two-weeks training. Each project sends a team member for this event and is thereafter expected to train their team on conservation leadership and management modules ranging from project planning to stakeholder behaviour change to mention a few.

 

The application deadline for ALL awards is the 28th November 2016.

Those applying for either a Conservation Follow-Up Award or Conservation Leadership Award must submit a Logical Framework and the Final Report of their previous CLP project by 24th October 2016. If the Logical Framework and Final Report are satisfactory, the team will be notified of this by 31st October 2016, and can afterwards submit by the 28th November 2016.