Hooray for Josef! Josef’s petition on stopping hunters from killing wild birds has been successful in bringing attention to this illegal activity that seems to be happening in many of the provinces around the archipelago. Hunting is second to habitat loss as the cause of species extinctions around the world. A few days ago he gave a speech at the Dutch embassy that I found to be eloquent, passionate and very well informed. I wasn’t there of course, since I’m here in SF, but he sent me a copy of his speech which I want to share with all of you.
Before I get to the hunting issue I would like to share a little something about myself. My name is Josef M. Sagemuller, my father is German and my mom is from Negros. I am no expert on birds or wildlife nor am I a conservationist or activist I am simply a fat guy who spends too much time on the internet. My educational background has nothing to do with birds, I am a jewelry designer and gemologist by trade and just stumbled into this issue gradually. However I must say I have always loved birds and as a teenager had an aviary of birds of prey in our home…a huge boo boo as the cage was overstocked with different species some quite incompatible. But I have learned since then and have realized one thing. Birds do not belong in cages.
We have a “farm” in the mountains near the Kanlaon National Park at the foothills of Mt Kanlaon at an elevation of 375m. It has been with my family for well over 100years and actually used to be a carabao pasture with a 4ha remnant of virgin forest. For some time we tried to plant it to but the terrain proved challenging. In the early 70s my parents decided to plant trees instead. They started off with Mahogany, Gmelina and Narra as well as fruit trees and coffee. Since then just maintaining the farm has been very frustrating. In the mid 80s illegal logging and slash an burn farming was very rampant in the area. And we were one of their victims and occasionally still are. At one point the slashed and burnt 20,000 ten year old Narra trees in a matter of less than a week. Because of the insurgency problem at that time there was little we could do. Thank god times have changed but unfortunately many people’s mindset hasnt. Since 1997 we were forced to employ armed guards to secure the area because of illegal logging and hunting. We have been catching loggers, hunters and thieves before reporting them to the police and DENR but trying to get some action out of them has been futile.The amount of reports of illegal logging, trapping of birds, hunting of birds, confiscation of airguns (which by the way need licenses just like any firearm) must be nearing 100 already. We have filed cases left and right some we even won but inaction has always been the common denominator among the local government. Recently a 100foot high Bita tree, a Philippine endemic tree in the farm was scorched by honey collectors who dipped a whole palm frond in kerosense and lit it up to smoke the bees out thereby burning half the tree and all the ephiphytes growing on it. It was in the middle of dry season and I thank God that the fire didnt spread as the forest was so dry it would have gone up like a tinderbox. We used to have a colony of macaques in the property but the hunters made a quick meal of them as well. Inspite of these and many appalling stories that have been going on thru the years we have been blessed as well.The guards have been quite effective to a certain degree because the birdlife has resurged. Pavel Hospodarsky(conservationist volunteer who used to work at zoo and now in resident of negros) with his biologist wife Marisol prepared a list of the bird species sighted in the farm and to date we have over 80 different species confirmed sighted,quite a feat if you think that just under 40 years ago the farm was a bald hill with a tiny patch of virgin growth forest. I am very proud of my parents for having the foresight in planting these trees and not cutting them down. A man from DENR once told me this is the only place in Negros where the fallen branches and logs just lie around in the forest to decay helping in the cycle of life. This does not even happen in Kanlaon National Park which to my knowledge has had most of it old growth trees cut and made into charcoal to supply the barbecue chicken industry in City.This is just the tip of the iceberg considering these stories only cover a minute area of Negros Occ . I am sure this and more is going on in all areas of the . It really is alarming to think of what we have lost forever and stand to lose in this country. A lady from who signed my petition said and I quote: “Extreme poverty in the brings on most of its difficulties today. If a starving person sees an endangered species, he´ll just see it as FOOD” be true insome cases but most certainly not in this case. These men use sophisticated weaponry, airguns that appear to be custom made and some appearing to accommodate shotgun bullets that house hundreds of pellet which when shot can take outdozen s of birds at a time.Even their internet access is proof that they are not starving. These men are organized and they have means to pursue their “sport”. One of the hunters even identified himself in the hunting forum as a councilor and vice chairman for the Commitee of Environment in Coron, Palawan. Doesnt sound like poverty to me. As a matter of fact in the forum the hunters did use the poverty angle and the rift between the classes a lot saying they were the ones close to the poor people because they were the ones who understood their problems saying the doves and mallards were eating their grains. And that they were thankful to have the hunters over and get rid of their problem. …this reminds me of the great sparrow campaign one of the first actions taken during Mao Zedongs great leap forward from 1958-1962. Sparrows were included on the list because they ate grain seeds, causing disruption to agriculture. It was decided that all the peasants in should bang pots and pans and run around to make the sparrows fly away in fear. Sparrow nests were torn down, eggs were broken, their nestling were also killed.
Initially, the campaign did improve the harvest. By April 1960 the National Academy of Science issued that sparrows ate insects more than seeds. Mao declared “forget it”, and ordered the end of the campaign against sparrows By this time, however, it was too late. With no sparrows to eat them, locust populations ballooned, swarming the country and compounding the problems already caused by the Great Leap Forward and adverse weather conditions leading to the famine. From 1959 to 1961, an estimated 38 million people died of starvation.
In a changing global climate we need all the allies we can get. And birds are an important ally .
These hunters are obviously grasping at straws with their rationale, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt since they call themselves nature lovers then again the moon could be made of I find it blasphemous to even mention the name of GOD to justify the callous destruction of his creation. ALL that in the name of sport. The name of GOD is always very convenient to use if you’ve run out of excuses. . They say that by experiencing the rawness of nature, listening to the raindrops in the rainforest and the morning dew settle on the leaves and all of that romanticized hogwash they have a right to take what GOD has given them. There is nothing romantic about people in camouflage uniform tracking down defenceless and harmless birds a fraction of their size.
One guy in the forum suggested they should hunt us “birdies” as they so lovingly call us.
Another claimed to know me…and used as his surname my mother’s maiden name. Suppose I can expect more impertinent comments in the future. My fear is that they will get back at me by sabotaging the farm and the animals since it is quite well known in the area, especially for hunters. I must admit to you that this is my greatest fear.
It is funny because the law is decidedly on the side of wildlife yet we still need to put up with these buffoons who act is if GOD and the law are on their side. We must make sure we unite and pursue this as the hunters are banking on the Filipino “ningas cogon” trait or in English boundless enthusiasm in the beginning that quickly fizzles out. I am with issue for the long haul and I’m sure you are as well. We must unite and find a way to make sure that the LAW is implemented and ENFORCED by the corresponding agencies. If we could only see to the implementation of half the provisions of RA 9147 we would already be at a decided advantage. Seeing that I don’t really have many answers and just complain a lot I really need your help and advice on how to proceed, only know that I am dedicated to this cause.
I could go on and on talking about things that are wrong and depressing but in the spirit of this season of hope together we can perhaps find solutions. The most important thing would be education especially of the younger generation. We need to find a way to reach the more remote barangays not just the schools in the big cities to inform them of the importance of preserving our flora and fauna and let them realize the benefit of protecting their ever shrinking habitats.
Although the work is not done and there are quite a few troublemakers, the barangay surrounding our farm area has become more aware of this issue simply because they directly benefit from it most especially from the abundant water that comes from our farm. People in the drier parts of Negros are lucky if they can harvest 2 palay crops a year, in our area they have 3 harvests in the same timeframe.
Eventually they will also benefit from my family’s plans to convert the area into an ecotourism destination, so that we may set an example in educating everyone about the benefits conservation of wildlife and their habitats. I am currently applying for permits to put up a rescue centre in the farm as I plan to release the birds once they have been rehabilitated and a plan for a Negros spotted deer enclosure is in the works.
This past week has been encouraging and annoying. But more encouraging as a whole, I have come across some amazingly dedicated people who share the shame vision. I am so honoured to be with you all today. I would also like to specially thank Mr. Mike Lu for sticking his neck out for me since day one. He has been a great source of support and encouragement. So much for a short speech. Thank you for bearing with me.
~ Josef M. Sagemuller