‘Endangered’ Nicobar pigeons to be released into the wild

Pia Ranada
Five Nicobar pigeons will be released into Apo Reef Natural Park after 6 years of rehabilitation in a government wildlife rescue center

RAINBOW TAIL. The Nicobar pigeon is considered one of the most beautiful dove species because of its shimmery, multi-colored tail. Photo courtesy of DENR

MANILA, Philippines – The critically-endangered population of Nicobar pigeons (Caloenas nicobarica) is about to get a boost. 

On Thursday, March 20, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will release 5 Nicobar pigeons into the Apo Reef Natural Park in Occidental Mindoro. 

The pigeons, 3 females and two males, spent the last 6 years rehabilitating in the Wildlife Rescue Center inside the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center in Quezon City.

Considered one of the most beautiful species of doves because of their shimmering, rainbow-like plumage, Nicobar pigeons are critically-endangered. They are locally known as Siete colores (“seven colors”) because of their brilliantly-colored feathers consisting of mostly blues and metallic greens. They also have distinctive white tails. 

The species is classified as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act (Republic Act No 9147) exacts penalties on anyone who captures or sells the rare birds.

Despite these forms of protection, Nicobar pigeons continue to be threatened by habitat destruction and illegal trade. They are sold as exotic pets or as food. Their gizzard stones are also used to make jewelry.

New sanctuary

The 5 Nicobar pigeons were rescued from poachers by operatives of DENR Region 3 in Pampanga in 2008, said Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) chief Theresa Mundita Lim. 

Wildlife Rescue Center personnel are confident the birds will help increase the population of their species. During their rehabilitation, they were observed to have courtship behavior, increasing the likelihood they will mate and produce offspring.

The Apo Reef Natural Park off the coast of Sablayan town in Occidental Mindoro was chosen to be the pigeons’ new home because the park already hosts a population of the bird species.

The 34-square kilometer park is composed of 3 islands that make up the famous Apo Reef, the second largest contiguous coral reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. There are at least 33 Nicobar pigeons in the largest island.

The BMB identified 22 species of fruit-bearing plants and 30 invertebrate species found in the protected area, making it an ideal breeding site for the pigeons. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.