Philippine island boasts world’s largest concentration of unique mammals

Philippine island boasts world’s largest concentration of unique mammals
Most of the threats to Luzon’s wildlife were observed in lowland forests. Above, rangers on patrol in Norzagaray, Bulacan of Luzon island. (AFP)
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Updated 21 May 2024
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Philippine island boasts world’s largest concentration of unique mammals

Philippine island boasts world’s largest concentration of unique mammals
  • 93% of mammals in Luzon are found nowhere else
  • Island has higher biological diversity than Galapagos

MANILA: Luzon may be known as the largest and most populous island of the Philippines, but it is also home to the greatest concentration of unique mammal species on Earth. Most of them are found nowhere else in the world.

The island, where the Philippine capital Manila is located, had never been connected to any continental land. Throughout the ages, this allowed the species that arrived there from the Asian mainland to evolve, diversify, and thrive in different habitats of its mountain ranges and peaks isolated by lowlands.

It is also one of the oldest islands, with geological research indicating that parts of it have been dry land areas continuously for some 27 million years.

“It’s a really old island. So, there’s time for rare events to take place. That’s a big part of it,” Dr. Lawrence Heaney, biologist and curator of mammals at the Field Museum in Chicago, told Arab News.

“There are no countries in continental Europe that have (this number of) unique species of mammals.”

Heaney is one of the first researchers to document the island’s diversity and has been leading American and Filipino scientists studying mammals in the Philippines since 1981.

His team’s 15-year study, which started in 2000, concluded that there were 56 species of mammals — not including bats — on the island, and 52 of them were endemic.

This means that 93 percent of Luzon’s non-flying mammals are found nowhere else, making it a biological treasure trove.

Luzon beats even the Galapagos islands, where each has been known for its diverse and unique array of wildlife.

“Luzon takes it another step further because there are isolated mountain ranges and isolated mountain peaks that are separated from all others by lowlands. They function as islands. Islands in the sky. Each one of those islands in the sky has its own unique set of species. Luzon island is made up of islands within the island,” Heaney said.

“What’s in the northern Sierra Madre, you know Cagayan province ... is very different from what’s in the mountains that are in Aurora province, because there’s an area of lowlands that separates those two different mountain chains. Then the mountains, the next set of mountains down also are separated by another low-lying area ... There are species of mammals that occur there that don’t live anywhere else in the world.”

Many of those mammals are tiny — the size of the house mouse. When most people think about mammal species, they usually imagine those on the larger part of the spectrum, like themselves.

“We think about water buffalo and horses and lions and tigers and bears,” Heaney said. “There are actually very few large mammals, overwhelmingly, most mammals are small, less than 200 grams ... Not surprisingly, given that, most of the things that we have discovered that were previously unknown are small.”

Mariano Roy Duya, associate professor at the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Biology, who has been working with Heaney, told Arab News that 28 out of the 56 mammal species identified in Luzon were rodents.

Two of them — the Banahaw shrew rat and the Banahaw tree mouse — were endemic to Mt. Banahaw, which is only 100 km from Manila.

The Banahaw shrew-rat has a long, slender snout, a short tail, and weighs 150 grams, while the Banahaw tree mouse is the smallest member of the cloud rat family at 15.5 grams, and navigates tree branches and vines.

Their habitat is now protected due to the efforts of the Biodiversity Conservation Society of the Philippines, a group that was created thanks to the work of scientists like Heaney and Duya, who now serves as its vice president.

The society is an organization that the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources consults on the country’s conservation efforts.

Some 20 percent of the species Heaney, Duya, and other researchers studied during their long Luzon project are vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered due to habitat loss, hunting, and illegal wildlife trade.

“(These include) deer, warty pigs, cloud rats, flying foxes, cave-dwelling bats, and civets,” Duya said.

“According to the hunters we meet in the forest, these animals are becoming hard to find.”

Most of the threats to Luzon’s wildlife were observed in lowland forests, which are usually lost to human development, overlogging, conversion to agricultural fields, and trafficking.

“Close monitoring of illegal wildlife trade and regular enforcement activities should be a priority,” Duya said.

“Securing these forests, as well as forest fragments, will provide refuge to many of these endemic faunae.”


Crowd in Pakistan kills man accused of burning Qur'an: police

Security personnel stand guard in Peshawar on January 30, 2023. (AFP file photo)
Security personnel stand guard in Peshawar on January 30, 2023. (AFP file photo)
Updated 7 sec ago
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Crowd in Pakistan kills man accused of burning Qur'an: police

Security personnel stand guard in Peshawar on January 30, 2023. (AFP file photo)
  • Blasphemy is a highly sensitive subject in majority Muslim Pakistan, where even accusations without evidence can stir up anger among crowds and spark outbreaks of violence

PESHAWAR: A Pakistani man accused of desecrating the Qur'an was slain and burned Thursday by a crowd that removed him from a police station where he had been detained for his protection, authorities said.
“On the evening of the 20th, locals in the Madian area detained a man, alleging he had burned the Qur'an. The police intervened, rescued him, and took him to the local police station,” a police source in Swat told AFP, noting the man was not from the area.
But the crowd, urged on by local mosques, converged on the police station and pelted it with stones.
“To disperse the angry mob, police fired warning shots into the air, which further incited the crowd. The mob overpowered the police, dragged the man out, and beat him to death with sticks,” the source said.
Later, some people poured oil on his body and set it ablaze, the source added.
A local official confirmed the incident, saying: “After killing the man, the enraged protesters started stoning the police, forcing them to abandon the station.
The situation in the area remained tense, with protesters blocking the main road, according to the official.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive subject in majority Muslim Pakistan, where even accusations without evidence can stir up anger among crowds and spark outbreaks of violence.
In late May, a Christian accused of burning pages of the Qur'an was also lynched by a mob in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab region, before succumbing to his injuries in early June, according to police.
Also in Punjab, in February 2023, a crowd beat to death a Muslim accused of having desecrated the holy book.
 

 


Campaigners urge UN rights chief to act on China Xinjiang abuse report

Police officers patrol the square in front of Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, May 3, 2021.
Police officers patrol the square in front of Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, May 3, 2021.
Updated 19 min 12 sec ago
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Campaigners urge UN rights chief to act on China Xinjiang abuse report

Police officers patrol the square in front of Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, May 3, 2021.
  • The August 2022 report, produced under the leadership of the last commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, said the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang may be an international crime

GENEVA: Campaign groups called on the United Nations human rights chief on Thursday to take more action over what they said were documented abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.
The groups, including the World Uyghur Congress and Amnesty International said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk had not followed up on a 2022 report by his own predecessor that found China may have committed crimes against humanity.
China defended its record and dismissed the groups’ statement given at a meeting in the Geneva headquarters of the UN Human Rights Council.
Volker did not attend the meeting and his office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. After taking office in October 2022, the Austrian former lawyer said he stood by the report and wanted to engage China over the findings.
The August 2022 report, produced under the leadership of the last commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, said the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang may be an international crime.
China has repeatedly denied accusations of abuses in its northwest Xinjiang region.
Just before Turk took office, mostly non-Western members of the Rights Council voted down a motion brought by the US, Britain and other mostly Western powers to hold a debate about the report — a result that was seen as a diplomatic victory for Beijing.
“To date there has been no action, no meaningful action,” Zumretay Arkin, a spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress, told Thursday’s meeting. “We are here to remind everyone ... that impunity cannot be the solution.”
The campaign groups, also including Human Rights Watch and the International Service for Human Rights, translated the 2022 report into five languages, published them and called for Turk to give an update on how his office and China had responded to the report’s recommendations.
China’s attache at its mission in Geneva, Zhu Kexing, told the session: “In order to discredit China and hinder China’s development, a small number of NGOs and Western countries do not hesitate to act as liars and rumor-makers to serve their anti-China separatist plots.”
Several countries including the United States and Australia also voiced concerns about the lack of follow-up on the 2022 report but stopped short of giving specific recommendations on how Turk’s office should react.

 


US bans Russia’s Kaspersky anti-virus software

US bans Russia’s Kaspersky anti-virus software
Updated 26 min 53 sec ago
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US bans Russia’s Kaspersky anti-virus software

US bans Russia’s Kaspersky anti-virus software

WASHINGTON: The United States on Thursday banned Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky from providing its popular anti-virus products in the country, the US Commerce Department announced.
“Kaspersky will generally no longer be able to, among other activities, sell its software within the United States or provide updates to software already in use,” the Commerce Department said in a statement announcing the action, which it said is the first of its kind.
 

 


Russians report some outages on bank apps after cyberattack, says Kommersant daily

Russians report some outages on bank apps after cyberattack, says Kommersant daily
Updated 34 min 42 sec ago
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Russians report some outages on bank apps after cyberattack, says Kommersant daily

Russians report some outages on bank apps after cyberattack, says Kommersant daily

MOSCOW: Russians on Thursday reported some problems with processing payments at major banks after a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on Russian banks, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported.
At least one Russian bank was telling clients that it was having trouble sending messages containing codes to confirm payments, a Reuters reporter said.
The Kommersant newspaper said Russians had reported problems using the websites of major banks, as well as with the Telegram messaging app and with major mobile phone networks.
It cited Russia’s payments cards operator as saying that the disruption had been short-lived and that the fast payments system was now working as usual.
The IT army of Ukraine, a group of volunteers committed to disrupting Russian digital communications, later issued a statement saying it was responsible the Russian bank outages.


US philanthropist Melinda French Gates endorses Biden

US philanthropist Melinda French Gates endorses Biden
Updated 44 min 21 sec ago
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US philanthropist Melinda French Gates endorses Biden

US philanthropist Melinda French Gates endorses Biden
  • French Gates announced in May that she would be using her $12.5 billion fortune to help “women and families,” making a first payment of $1 billion

WASHINGTON: American philanthropist Melinda French Gates, the ex-wife of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, endorsed President Joe Biden on Thursday for November’s US election, arguing that he is the best candidate for women.
“I’ve never endorsed a presidential candidate before. But this year’s election stands to be so enormously consequential for women and families that, this time, I can’t stay quiet,” she said on X.
“Women deserve a leader who cares about the issues they face and is committed to protecting their safety, their health, their economic power, their reproductive rights, and their ability to freely and fully participate in a functioning democracy.”
French Gates, who recently stepped down as president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said the contrast between Biden and his Republican opponent Donald Trump “couldn’t be greater, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.”
“I will be voting for President Biden,” she concluded.
Reproductive rights have been an effective political cudgel for Democrats in the two years since the conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that made abortion a constitutionally protected right.
A comfortable majority of Americans think abortion should be legal in most cases, according to extensive polling, and around half of states have measures in place to protect access.
The issue has been a major theme of the election campaign, with Biden supporting women’s right to choose and Trump failing to stake out a clear-cut position beyond pride in appointing three of the justices who struck down Roe v Wade.
French Gates announced in May that she would be using her $12.5 billion fortune to help “women and families,” making a first payment of $1 billion.
She said the Supreme Court ruling on abortion had prompted her to devote herself to defending women’s rights.