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The Butaan Project - Conservation Print E-mail

polillomap1.jpgThe dark green patch at center left in this unmanipulated Google Earth image is the last remaining fragment of unlogged lowland dipterocarp forest on Polillo Island, and our main study site for the last 11 years. Less than one square mile in size (220ha) and less than 100m above sea level, the Sibulan Watershed Reserve has lost much of its secondary boundary forest over the last six years through illegal and uncontrolled agricultural activities. 

butaan5.jpgThe butaan and its relatives are imminent danger. They only exists on small islands where habitat loss estimated at over 95% since 1945. Their large size and specialized feeding niche makes them more sensitive to forest fragmentation and degradation than any other frugivore. They are highly sought after for meat and pet trade and can easily be exterminated from isolated patches by hunting.

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  Conservation Concerns

  • Butaan and its relatives:
  • Have the same conservation status as Varanus komodoensis
  • Are the only members of the genus that are not exclusively carnivorous
  • Are the only lizard species that are obligate frugivores
  • Are the only obligate frugivores in the Philippines that are unable to fly
  • Are by far the largest frugivorous vertebrates in the Philippine


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The 1970s study of butaan was conducted in almost 900 square km of primary forest in Bicol. Our study site on Polillo Island contain only 2.8 square km of primary forest, along with about 20 square km of logged forest fragments to the north and east.Polillo Island was almost completely deforested between 1950 and 1990. Today the landscape is primarily coconut plantations, with isolated fragments of degraded forest. Many of these fragments have been destroyed by slash and burn agriculture since the study began.

Butaan on Polillo

  • Survive only in larger forest fragments
  • Are being extirpated from many fragments because of the destruction of key resources
  • Almost always climb trees to get fruit
  • Regularly eat fruit that were ignored at Auffenberg’s sites
  • Regularly shift hillsides according to fruit abundance
  • Have much bigger annual activity areas than those measured in primary forest
  • Show highly clustered distribution in some areas

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About Mampam
William Oliver

William Oliver. Champion of biodiversity and its students. So many of us benefited from his advice and expertise. What a character. RIP.

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Help Mampam
The Butaan Project
The Butaan Project - Background and History
butaan2.jpgThe butaan was first described to science in 1845 from a juvenile specimen collected by Hugh Cuming. It was labelled only "Philippines". It was named Varanus grayi.  No other specimens came to light for over 120 years. In the 1970s Walter Auffenberg found another specimen with a location in Luzon, established that its correct scientific name was Varanus olivaceus, and undertook a 22 month study of the species based in Bicol. His study revealed that butaan occupy a unique ecological niche and have a lifestyle quite unlike any other monitor lizard. Auffenberg used local hunters with dogs to catch the animals. Of 126 butaan caught during his study, 116 animals were killed.
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