Crocodile protector in Isabela feted in worldwide Whitley Fund for Nature awards

By on May 11, 2014

Crocodile. File photo by Ching Dee / Instagram
Crocodile. File photo by Ching Dee


SAN MARIANO, Isabela (PNA) — For her continuing conservation of world’s rarest Philippine crocodiles in Isabela, Marites Gatan-Balbas of the non-government Mabuwaya Foundation, received the worldwide Whitley Awards for Nature in London on May 8 (May 9 in Manila).

She said her fight for crocodile conservation and protection of its habitat, which are mostly found in San Mariano and Divilacan, Isabela, has been the factor in getting the award.

“We wrote a proposal not only for crocodile conservation but also the protection of its habitat such as river helping the people declare an area as fish sanctuaries and we also trained the people,” Balbas said after she was feted by the world’s environment award-giving body, Whitley Fund for Nature Awards 2014 at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

She received the award from Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, the Whitley Fund’s patron.

Balbas, who has been tapped as the deputy executive director and field manager of the Mabuwaya Foundation since 2003, admitted that the Philippine crocodile has been regarded as a large man-eater while people saw them as pests.

The animal is frequently used as a symbol to represent corrupt politicians. But in reality, these species are relatively shy and friendly and does not attack unless provoked, she added.

The sustained action, she said, has helped bring the Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) back from the brink of extinction.

The foundation’s nine-member staff aside from volunteers have managed to increase the wild population from 12 in 2001 to 109 today, and reduced crocodile killings by humans from 13 in 1998 to just one in 2013.

As a winner among eight Whitley awardees (aside from the gold awardee), she will share with the £ 280,000 prize money with seven other Whitley winners of the “Green Oscar” awards.

The body recognizes individuals working in grassroots nature conservation in developing countries.

Listed as critically endangered by the IUCN and found only in the Philippines, there are only 100 mature Philippine crocodiles estimated to be living in the wild. Little is known about the species how long an individual crocodile lives, and Gatan Balbas’s Mabuwaya Foundation is one of the only organizations conducting a study on it. (PNA)