More than half of the native fauna in the Philippines face the threat of extinction, according to the country's Environment and Natural Resources Department.  One of the world's top biodiversity hotspots, the Philippines hosts thousands of species that can be found nowhere else on Earth. Of the 1,137 bird, mammal and amphibian species endemic to the country, 592 are considered "threatened or endangered" by the IUCN Red List, along with 227 endemic species of flowering plants.

One species in particular has made the news in recent weeks. Tempers flared after a farmer shot and ate a critically endangered Philippine eagle. There are just a few hundred pairs of these birds, the world's largest and most endangered eagle, left in the wild, and conservationists have spent decades trying to bring the species back from the brink of extinction. The bird in question had only been re-released into the wild in March after being nursed back to health following a previous shooting in September 2006.

The 22-year-old tribal farmer who shot the eagle now faces 12 years in prison for his crime under the Philippines' Wildlife Conservation Act. The farmer says he didn't know the birds were endangered, or that there were penalties for killing them.

To combat this lack of knowledge in indigenous communities, the Philippine Eagle Foundation has embarked upon a door-to-door education campaign, delivering leaflets to teach native peoples that the eagles and other species need to be protected.

Of course, tribal peoples aren't the ones primarily responsible for the perilous biodiversity problems in the Philippines. The country faces extreme poverty, a huge illegal logging problem, rapid development to support a growing population, a massive economic reliance upon mining, and the introduction of invasive species.

We could be hearing about a number of extinctions in the Philippines in coming years, but hopefully the hard work of the government and conservation groups will keep things from getting too bad too quickly.

Story by John Platt. This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Biodiversity crisis in the Philippines
Poverty and tribal hunting threaten the Philippines, a top biodiversity hotspot.