Thriving wildlife observed as Mt. Apo reopens after 3-month off-season


Posted at Sep 16 2023 11:00 PM

Photos from Julius Paner
Collage photos of Mount Apo and wildlife sightings. Photos from Julius Paner

DAVAO CITY -- The Sta. Cruz Tourism Office in Davao del Sur believes that the implementation of the three-month annual off-season in Mount Apo increased flora and fauna species found in the country's highest mountain.

Trails heading to the campsite and summit are temporarily closed every June to August pursuant to Mount Apo Natural Park - Protected Area Management Board En Banc Resolution No. 08, series of 2021, or the off-season of Mount Apo.

According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the entire season prohibits all trekking and camping activities to give time for the "sacred mountain" to recuperate. It will also allow the wildlife species to enjoy their habitat without disturbance.

In the Sta. Cruz trail, one of the Mount Apo hiking trails in Davao del Sur and Cotabato Province, LGU personnel conducted a cleanup drive and repaired campsite facilities like comfort rooms and water sources during the off-season.

Julius Paner, Sta. Cruz tourism officer, said littering is not a huge problem anymore as they have been strict against climbers throwing garbage anywhere. Aside from the cleanliness of the campsite, LGU personnel also check if the trash is brought down to the jump-off point.

"The problem of vandalism is also very minimal. I don't see any new traces of vandalism. In fact, it's gone because there was an effort, about 3 or 4 years ago, to erase graffiti on the boulders. So far, we have had no vandalism incidents," he told ABS-CBN News.

The local government also conducts biodiversity monitoring to assess the presence of wildlife species in Mount Apo.

The DENR said Mount Apo Natural Park is in the United Nations List of National Parks and Equivalent Reserves and acknowledged as an ASEAN Heritage Site.

It is home to over 272 bird species, 111 of which are endemic, and also houses one of the world’s largest eagle, the critically endangered Philippine Eagle.

Paner said during their biodiversity monitoring, they spotted bird species that often shy away during the climbing season. 

The sightings include the Mindanao Jungle Flycatcher, which is endemic in Mindanao, and Apo Sunbird, also endemic but only in Mt. Apo.

Since the start of the pandemic when hiking was also prohibited due to restrictions, other wildlife species were also spotted such as the Philippine Warty pig, Philippine Long Tailed Macaque, and Philippine brown deer.

"We conduct biodiversity monitoring twice a year. Once during the off-season, which is in August, the other one is in February, during peak season. Off-season versus peak season," Paner said.

"The difference is very clear. We have records of fauna that can be observed during the off-season. Because it's given, if there are people passing through the trail, they will hide. We won't notice them. In the first place, they are not comfortable when people are around," he added.

The off-season was also set from June to August because according to DENR experts, this is the breeding season of most wildlife species.

Because of the flourishing wildlife species, various sectors sought to create a Mt. Apo Wildlife Conservation Center, envisioned to become a sanctuary dedicated to preserving Mt. Apo’s wildlife through conservation, education, research, and quality animal care.

Meanwhile, concerned local government units also ensured that the needs of the affected mountain guides and porters would be met, especially since the income from farming was not enough.

Guides and porters who were affected by the three-month off-season benefitted from the TUPAD cash-for-work program of the Department of Labor and Employment.

"Although the off-season has a small impact on people's livelihood, but that's the essence of eco-tourism. We cannot afford to just allow people to climb without the aspect of regulation and conservation. So we really need to protect nature. Conservation will be over and above everything," Paner said.

When the trails reopened in September this year, the LGUs observed that the Mt. Apo climb was fully booked immediately. Thus, authorities reminded the climbers to leave no trace and enjoy the climb without sacrificing the mountain's natural resources.

With an altitude of 2,954 meters above sea level, Mt. Apo is the highest mountain and one of the most popular nature-based tourism sites in the country. - report from Hernel Tocmo