Polillo Island, Philippines

Daniel Bennett

Giant frugivorous monitor lizards are endemic to lowland dipterocarp the Philippine Islands. Their large size, inability to fly and dependence on a small number of relatively rare fruit resources mean that they are more sensitive to forest fragmentation than other vertebrates, whilst their highly arboreal behaviour and very shy dispositions mean that they are only very rarely detected in biodiversity surveys, despite being the largest lizards (and one of the largest vertebrates) in the area. At present two species are recognised (one described in 2001) but at least another two “undiscovered” species are thought to exist in the northern Luzon region. Their vulnerability and reclusiveness, combined with the massive habitat destruction in this area, make it quite probable that species of giant lizard could be driven extinct without ever having been recognised by science. This project uses non-intrusive methodologies developed on Polillo Island, Quezon Province, to investigate the distribution and status of these animals in remaining forest fragments on Luzon and adjacent islands, and to identify the key resources important in their conservation. The project includes an important training component whereby field workers from many disciplines throughout the region will be invited to the established study sites on Polillo Island to learn the techniques involved. The results will provide us with a vastly improved understanding of the distribution, taxonomy and conservation status of these animals which will be invaluable in formulation of effective plans for their conservation and the maintenance of their habitat.

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