Oh my gosh, squirrels are taking over Manila” is a thought I legit had a couple of weeks ago during the Forest Foundation’s BFF Trail event at La Mesa EcoPark.
We were out and about early Saturday morning to learn about the importance of conserving biodiversity in Philippine forests as part of the first-ever BFF Trails, an event organized by The Forest Foundation’s Best Friends of the Forest Movement. BFFs are members of a community aiming to inspire people to conserve biodiversity in Philippine forests and other ecologically important areas.
Our group was walking up the designated path when our tour guides, UP Mountaineers Lee-Ann Canals and Fredd Ochavo, pointed out a squirrel scurrying up a nearby tree. So “taking over” is a slight exaggeration (apologies for conjuring up images of giant squirrels attacking buildings, Godzilla-style), but at this point I find this wording necessary to emphasize the gravity of the situation.
Metro Manila’s squirrel problem wasn’t the main focus of the BFF Trail, but get this: everything in nature is connected.
Metro Manila’s squirrel problem wasn’t the main focus of the BFF Trail, but get this: everything in nature is connected. Since the furry little fellas aren’t native to the Philippines and therefore have no predators to keep their population balanced, they could be majorly destroying the balance of our natural ecosystem.
Nice to leaf you: UP Mountaineers Lee-Ann Canals and Fredd Ochavo taught BFFs about the trees around La Mesa Eco Park.
To explain the squirrel problem, our bird-watching guide, UP Professor (and resident bird man) Gerry de Villa reminded us of our grade school lessons on ecosystems: squirrels steal eggs and destroy bird nests, which is a threat to our native bird population. Birds are important because they pollinate plants and distribute seeds. Fewer birds means fewer trees, which causes landslides, and so on. If you go even further, the effects reach to our oceans. Not so cute, eh?
Knowing which species are native (naturally grown in the area), which are introduced (exotic, not found in the area), and which are endemic (only found in the area) is one important step to being more environmentally aware. During our tree walk, Lee and Fred identified narra, banaba, ipil, kamagong, tibig and more trees, noting their different characteristics and what makes them so special.
Bird man: UP Professor Gerry de Villa explained why birds are important.
The squirrel example is just one of many instances where introduced, invasive species posed threats to our existing environment. Just as you shouldn’t be bringing in foreign animals and setting them free, you also have to be informed before planting trees. It’s not as simple as deciding to plant 20 mahogany trees in a random space to “help save the environment” because they grow fast. Mahogany trees are invasive species that can end up killing other surrounding plants, so it’s better to assess and do your research before planting anything — one mistake can make a big impact on your area’s biodiversity.
Standing in the middle of the tree walk path, listening to the birds chirping and leaves rustling is an experience you don’t normally get to appreciate in the city. I mean, when was the last time you really looked at a tree and appreciated it? If you need to be reminded of why we’re making all these efforts to go green, this is the activity for you. Actually, I think everyone needs to go on a tree walk at least once in their lives.
Green minded: The Forest Foundation’s BFF Trails aim to inspire people to conserve biodiversity in Philippine forests.
Forest Foundation Philippines founder Onggie Canivel put it best when he thanked everyone for coming at the end of the trail: “BFF trails is the start of millennials thinking of where we are in terms of our relationship to nature… It’s also a trail that helps us think of our future related to nature and how we can help.”
The next two BFF events are a tree watercolor painting activity on Nov.14 and a talk on eco-tourism and conservation on Nov. 24. For more information on how to be a BFF, visit www.forestfoundation.ph/be-a-bff.