Spotting the spotted deer - Leonor Magtolis Briones

Posted at 05/25/09 4:56 AM

Yesterday,  a front page story in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 24, 2009) featured the story that “the world’s rarest deer still roam Negros”.  The report stated that last April 2009, a team of British and Filipino environmentalists found droppings of the world’s rarest deer in the North Negros Natural Park.  This is the Visayan spotted deer (Cervus Alfredi) which  used to be endemic in the Philippines but is becoming rare.

The report cited the Negros Interior Biodiversity Expedition (NIBE) which found the droppings.  Mention was also made of the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation’s Biodiversity Conservation Center in Bacolod City which breeds the deer in captivity and later releases them in the wild.

The British Ambassador has declared  that  “this is an exciting discovery.” The expedition team is reportedly all set to present their findings to the Royal Geographic Society.

The spotted deer in Southern Negros

The PDI reported  the  findings about droppings in Northern Negros. In the interest of complete reporting, it should be mentioned that spotted deer have been bred in captivity  and released in the wild since 1990 in Southern Negros, in the province of Negros Oriental.

The Silliman University Mammal Conservation Program has been active since 1987 through  the Center for Tropical Studies (CENTROP) . It has been engaged in spotted deer  captive breeding since 1990. Spotted deer have been released in the interior forests of Southern Negros, particularly in the interior of Basay, Negros Oriental, south of Dumaguete City.

In an interview which I conducted yesterday, Dr. Angel Alcala one of the country’s foremost biologists and Professor Emeritus of Silliman University, he mentioned that the university was the earliest  institution to call public attention  to the fact that the spotted deer was in danger of becoming extinct.

The university has a track record of published scientific papers as well as popular articles such as the Mabuhay  travel magazine on the spotted deer.

Dr. Alcala  stated  that the spotted deer in Southern Negros are released in protected areas in cooperation with the farmers and big planters, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Not just footprints and droppings; spotting the spotted deer

Researcher Ely Alcala has reported seeing not just footprints and droppings of the spotted deer in the wild; he has spotted and observed them in their natural habitat! According to Dr.  Alcala, “This was a few years ago when he (Ely ) did field work for crocodile ecology.”  Dr. Alcala continued, “Recent reports refer to 2 to 3 years when I  asked DENR CENRO about deer feeding in large reforested areas in Southern Negros.”

When I asked him if the spotted deer are still in Southern Negros  since the time they were seen physically, he answered “ I have not received news to indicate that the deer are no longer there.” He emphasized that the deer are protected by forest plantation owners and farmers. He believes they are still there.  This is due in large part to the work done by Silliman University’s CENTROP.

Spotted deer in Negros Oriental

As far back as I can remember, Silliman University had what we then called a “mini forest” right inside the university where different varieties of trees could be found.  It also had a variety of birds and animals which are found in Negros Oriental.  These included, different varieties of bats, birds (including a rare pigeon), crocodiles, snakes, wild boars, deer, and of course, the spotted deer.  It was originally developed  by Dr. Alfredo Reyes, a botanist who taught in Silliman during the fifties. Since then, the mini forest has been named the Alfredo Reyes Memorial Park.

The Center  for Tropical Studies is located in the park. Every year, thousands of students and tourists who visit Silliman University are brought to the Center to watch the spotted deer and other endemic animals.  I myself have brought many  visitors to the Center.  My  grandchild  was three years old when she had her first look at the spotted deer.  She is now five years old and has not forgotten the experience.

Two biodiversity centers in two Negros Provinces

It is clear that the spotted deer can be found not only in Northern Negros or Negros Occidental but in Southern Negros, or Negros Oriental as well.  Furthermore, there is a  biodiversity center in each province.  One of them is university based.  In this regard, the island of Negros is fortunate indeed. This probably explains why the “world’s rarest deer” survives in the two provinces inspite of the fact that it is extinct elsewhere.

The work in Silliman University and in Negros Oriental is well documented.  It should be an indispensable part of any report on the spotted deer.