A Tale From the Forest
- Asia, Philippines
- Personal Essay
For one or two weeks each month, I hike three hours into the rain forest. I sleep at a research station that looks like a modern day Swiss Family Robinson tree house. Here, we conduct research about the complex interactions between flora and fauna. Most of the 7,000 islands of the Philippines were created by volcanic activity and plate tectonics. Because of these unique events, some species spread throughout many of the islands, while others stayed put and changed or evolved over time. The Philippines has an extremely high level of biodiversity—different kinds of vegetation and animals—due to the many isolated environments of the islands, many with different soil types. Darwin, who did most of his work on the Galápagos islands and founded the principles of modern ecology, never visited the Philippines. Perhaps he should have. Experts today say that our 7,107 islands are Galapagos times ten. After all, nearly 40 percentof all species of the world can be found in the Philippines.
One of the islands is home to the Panay forest. It is well known, and hunters often roam its trails searching for wild pigs, alimokons (wild chickens) or even one of the many endangered birds. Although some of these animals are hunted for food, others are hunted for sport. The more time I am able to spend in the rain forest and with people who regularly journey through it to find food, material for houses, medicines, and handicrafts materials, the more I realize that local people know that conserving our precious resources is important. Local people have known this for hundreds of years, and a former hunter whom I have come to know well over the past year passed down this tale to me. Not only does it speak of direct need for conservation of a single species, but it also addresses sustainable hunting.
When you are hunting in the forest at night for a wild pig, you must always watch for the boocaw. This night-roosting bird, a local falcon, watches over the success of you and your hunting party. This bird is a sacred bird, and that is why you never hunt it. But, if you have hunted too many pigs already, or if you have bad intentions in the forest, this bird may intervene.
One way the bird intervenes is by occasionally following your hunting party. He warns you with his long deep calls in the night. Or, if your group has already successfully caught one wild pig and is looking for another, the boocaw will swoop down and alight on the back of the pig to scare it. The pig, of course, will crash off into the forest, and you will never ever catch it.