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Sanguila also stresses the importance of conserving what is left of Mindanao’s forests, especially now that we know what a special place it is. Although much of the original forest cover in the lowlands have been lost, she believes it is critical to establish new protected areas to halt the environmentally destructive harvest of natural resources, to promote societal environmental awareness, and to allow habitats to regenerate over several decades.
Siler hopes this paper is only the beginning of a bright future for biodiversity research in the area. He plans to continue working with the University of Kansas, graduate students from the program – many of whom have started their own programs in the United States – as well as their Philippine collaborators.
|Myanmar Army: The national armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw.|
|Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA): A multilateral agreement that calls for political dialogue between the Myanmar army and the country’s ethnic armed organizations. Signed on Oct. 15, 2015 by the Tatmadaw and eight armed groups.|
|Border Guard Forces (BGFs): Created by the Tatmadaw in 2009 and 2010. They were formed by integrating Tatmadaw soldiers with those from units originally with either ethnic armed organizations or militia groups. The BGFs have served as proxy forces for the Tatmadaw to exercise influence in areas not under their direct control.|
|Karen National Union (KNU): Formed in the late 1947, the KNU is Myanmar’s oldest ethnic armed opposition group. The KNU initially called for independence, but since 1976 has instead been seeking a federal system. Signed a bilateral ceasefire with the government in 2012 and is part of the NCA.
|Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA): Formal armed wing of the KNU. It was founded in 1949.
“When you do survey work on Mindanao, two main issues need to be addressed; security-related and local (within site) politics,” Sanguila said. Culturally, Mindanao is incredibly complex and diverse. The island is home to some two dozen ethnolinguistic groups speaking roughly 70 languages, who often have conflicting interests over how to use the island’s rich agricultural and natural resources. Proper precautions had to be taken before researchers could go into the field, including meeting with local authorities, tribal leaders, hunters, police and military for advice.
All that hard work is now paying off. “Having [Sanguila] down there and being one of the more active biodiversity researchers in the southern Philippines is a fantastic position to develop new conservation initiatives and awareness about biodiversity,” Siler said. In 2013, Sanguila came to the University of Oklahoma on a Fulbright scholarship to study genetic sampling techniques as well as the ins and outs of building and caring for a natural history collection. It was there, in collaboration with Siler, that the ambitious project to survey the reptiles and amphibians of Mindanao was born.
Another major goal of the research was to update outdated IUCN conservation status assessments by sorting out unresolved taxonomic questions. That work, the researchers say, has just begun. Many more long-term species surveys are needed to truly understand the diversity and conservation status of the reptiles and amphibians of Mindanao. That will require using modern genetic sampling techniques as well as input from more traditional taxonomists who perform the detailed work of teasing apart species relationships. According to Sanguila, 20 percent of the species recorded require “immediate systematic revisions” before informed decisions can be made regarding their conservation status.
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