Philippine Cockatoo Conservation Program

Preening Philippines Cockatoo
Preening Philippines Cockatoo @Peter Widman

… is one of the smallest of the 21 cockatoo species, and the only one which has its entire range in the northern hemisphere: in the Philippines, to which it is endemic, as the name implies.

This bird which is locally known as ‘Katala’ or ‘Abukay’ is also one of the most threatened parrot species; the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists it as ‘Critically Endangered’. By mid of the 1980s only small remnant populations were left, most of them in the Palawan region. Main reasons for the collapse of almost all Philippine Cockatoo populations were habitat loss and poaching for the pet trade. In addition, they were persecuted as agricultural pests in some areas.

In 1998 a group of people, which later founded the Katala Foundation (KFI), started a comprehensive conservation program to rescue the species from extinction. At its core was and remains the so-called wildlife warden scheme which employs ex-poachers as protectors of the cockatoo. Benefits of this approach were threefold: firstly, poaching as one of the main threat factors was immediately removed; secondly, with the help of the ex-poachers secured, the program gained valuable local knowledge on the biology of the cockatoo, location of nest trees, even how to treat and feed rescued birds; and lastly, ex-poachers, who often belonged to marginalized sectors in their community received a small but stable income and developed pride to be a vital part of an increasingly acknowledged conservation effort.

In addition to the warden schemes, the Philippine Cockatoo Conservation Program (PCCP) employs a wide range of tools to protect the species, including protected area establishment and management, conservation research and education, advocacy, provision of alternative livelihood, habitat restoration, and reintroduction.

These efforts have paid out and cockatoo populations have increased significantly with the start of active management of the species in three project sites and stabilized in a fourth one. PCCP has received local, national and international recognition and is considered as one of the most successful species conservation programs for parrots.

The total population number of Philippine Cockatoos is estimated to range between 820 and 1,280 birds. The wide span is due to the fact that some areas, particularly in the Sulu archipelago are difficult to survey, due to security concerns. At least 69%, but up to 86% of the global Philippine Cockatoo population can be found in the four project sites initiated by, and managed with assistance of Katala Foundation.