Profile: J Kahlil Panopio, Wildlife Biologist

The EDGE of Existence programme invests in conservation at a grass-roots level by helping aspiring conservationists in developing countries to take the lead in researching and conserving their local EDGE species.

One of the most effective ways in which the EDGE of Existence programme is working to secure the future of EDGE species is by helping to build conservation capacity in regions in which they occur. This is achieved though awarding two-year Fellowships to future conservation leaders - EDGE Fellows - working on poorly-known EDGE species.

Wildlife Biologist J. Kahlil Panopio is one of our current EDGE Fellows. We find out how he is Working for Wildlife.

Observation in Quadrat

Firstly, congratulations on receiving the EDGE Fellowship. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? 

I grew up in Mangaldan, Pangasinan a rural municipality in the Philippines. The main source of livelihood was farming which is why my interaction with wildlife was very minimal. Although we didn’t have forests nearby, that didn’t stop me from exploring my surroundings. During the rainy season, I used to raise tadpoles and watch them every day until they finish their metamorphosis to being a frog.

I was a fan of National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and Animal Planet films especially those that feature Africa’s Big 5.  I also followed documentaries of Sir David Attenborough and the Cosmos by Carl Sagan. I was always fascinated with natural sciences. I guess studying wildlife was always within me so I chose Biology for my undergraduate studies. 

Working in conservation came in second. I always knew about global warming and how important it was to reduce, reuse, and recycle your garbage but it was Haribon that opened my eyes to the real state of our environment and the need to conserve it. I learned that there are over 600 species of birds in the Philippines and that over 10% of them are threatened to extinction. I didn’t want any species to go extinct. I wanted Filipinos to appreciate Philippine wildlife. I want every Filipino to know that the Philippines also has very interesting animals that are as charismatic as China’s Panda. That’s what inspired me to work in conservation and apply for the EDGE Fellowship to conserve the Philippine Eagle.  

There are over 600 species of birds in the Philippines and over 10% of them are threatened to extinction

How did you hear about the Edge Fellowship and what were you doing before you became an Edge Fellow?

I heard about the EDGE Fellowship from a colleague who’s one of the first EDGE Coral Fellows of the Philippines, Gregorio Ditto de la Rosa Jr. We’re biologists working under the research department of Haribon Foundation, the Philippine’s pioneer environment conservation non-government organization. His work is concentrated on marine wildlife while my focus is on terrestrial fauna. Before becoming an EDGE Fellow, I was involved in monitoring globally threatened birds in several Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) in the Philippines. At the time of the call for EDGE Fellowship project proposals, I was in-charge of monitoring Philippine Eagles in the Central and Southern parts of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range in the eastern side of Luzon Island. It was on March 2014 that my team and I were able to locate a family of Philippine Eagles in the Mingan Mountains of Central Sierra Madre. The Philippine Eagle was ranked 8th in the list of Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered Birds.

When EDGE-ZSL called for project proposals in 2014, Ditto shared the opportunity and suggested that I apply for the fellowship. He said the fellowship was a good venue for early career conservationists to learn cutting-edge skills and wildlife management techniques to design and implement conservation projects. With the help of Haribon Foundation, I developed a project proposal for the conservation of Philippine Eagles in the Mingan Mountains which fortunately made the cut for the 2015 EDGE Fellowship.

Observation in Quadrat

Which animals or areas do you specialise in or work on?

As a wildlife biologist of Haribon, I was tasked to monitor globally threatened endemic birds of the Philippines. I was a part of several field surveys in IBAs of Luzon island, Panay island and Mindoro island Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs). In Luzon, our teams monitored Critically Endangered Philippine Eagles of Mount Dingalan (PH018) and Mount Irid-Angelo IBA (PH020). The globally threatened birds of the Central Panay Mountains (PH061) such as the Critically Endangered Rufous-headed Hornbill and the Endangered Visayan Hornbill were the species that we monitored in Panay Island. Lastly, the Vulnerable Scarlet-collared Flowerpecker, Endangered Mindoro Hornbill, Critically Endangered Black-hooded Coucal and the Critically Endangered Mindoro Bleeding-heart Pigeon were the species of concern for our monitoring in Mindoro Island.  

What is the focus of your EDGE Fellowship and what made you want to study in your current field?

Research and awareness raising on Philippine Eagles is the focus of my EDGE Fellowship. My fellowship project forms a part of Haribon’s larger project for the conservation of Philippine Eagles in the Sierra Madre Mountains under Birdlife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme. We have so far conducted several field surveys to study Philippine Eagle prey availability and habitat requirements to understand their distribution in the Mingan Mountains. We have also interviewed over 200 respondents from the communities adjacent to the mountain range to assess their current knowledge and perception about Philippine Eagles in their forests. Raising awareness about Philippine Eagles will be the concentration of my fellowship for 2016. We’ll use the information that we’ve gathered from the perception and field surveys developing a communication plan specific for the communities surrounding Mount Mingan.

I took biology in my undergraduate studies and then applied for a position as a researcher for Haribon Foundation. Haribon has given me many opportunities to specialize on Philippine Birds that piqued my interest in them. Because of my work, I was able to see rare species that most people haven’t seen in their whole life, birders or non-birders alike.

What is the best thing about your job/role?

Haribon’s main office is in Quezon City, part of the Philippine’s metropolis, Metro Manila. Living in the city takes its toll on you. The fast paced setting in the metro exposes you to negative ambience of different varieties from noise and air pollution to traffic congestion. That’s why leaving the metro to make field surveys in the Mingan Mountains the best part of my role as a wildlife biologist. I get to climb mountains with pristine forests, smell the fresh air and experience the wild first hand.

The fast paced setting in the metro exposes you to negative ambience of different varieties from noise and air pollution to traffic congestion

Have there been any particular highlights during your fellowship so far?

Having the chance to wear a Philippine Eagle costume for a parade during Dingalan, Aurora’s 7th Saba Festival last June 2015 would be on top of my list of highlights during for my fellowship. Seeing the smiles on the kid’s faces as “Hari”, the King of the Birds mascot was passing by their house during the parade was definitely heart-warming.

The EDGE Fellowships are aimed at providing early-career conservationists, biologists and zoologists with the funding and mentoring to help them get a foothold in their sector.

How important do you think the Fellowships are to support conservation, especially local conservation? 

Fellowships are important to support wildlife conservation especially in areas where the pool of local terrestrial conservation experts are not enough. In the Philippines for example, the circle of local conservation experts is very small to the point that those in the field almost always know each other. There are also very few fresh graduates that join the field of wildlife conservation probably because of other opportunities that offer better compensation.  

The support from the fellowships makes being a conservationist, biologist or zoologist an exciting prospect for young people. It helps provide jobs to those people involved in local conservation. It also connects the fellows to a wider pool of international experts that can help them move forward in their career in environment conservation.

You can also work for wildlife by becoming a Wildlife Champion - champion an area of our work and help ensure a future for wildlife.

Find out more