- The Field Museum in Chicago has awarded this year’s prestigious Parker/Gentry Award to Merlijn van Weerd, a Dutch wildlife conservationist, for his extensive work to protect the rare and critically endangered Philippine crocodile in the Philippines.
- Weerd and his colleagues founded the Mabuwaya Foundation in 2003, a conservation organization aimed at protecting the Philippines crocodiles by engaging with local communities.
- Weerd has also helped establish the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park in northern Luzon, and has been part of the team that discovered the fruit-eating monitor lizard.
The Field Museum in Chicago has awarded this year’s prestigious Parker/Gentry Award to Merlijn van Weerd, a Dutch wildlife conservationist working in the Philippines for the past 16 years. Weerd has worked extensively to protect the rare and critically endangered Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) in the country.
Each year, the Parker/Gentry Award is given to “an outstanding individual, team or organization in the field of conservation biology whose efforts have had a significant impact on preserving the world’s natural heritage and whose actions and approach can serve as a model to others.” In 2014, Rhett Butler, founder of Mongabay.com, received the award.
This year’s award honors Weerd in “recognition of his commitment to biodiversity conservation awareness.”
“I am delighted with Merlijn receiving the Parker Gentry Award as he has made a huge difference to the recovery of the Philippine Crocodile in northern Luzon,” Chris Banks, manager of international partnerships at Zoos Victoria, and a member of the Mabuwaya Foundation Board and Philippine Crocodile Recovery Team, told Mongabay.
In 2003, Weerd and his colleagues established the Mabuwaya Foundation, a conservation organization aimed at protecting the Philippine crocodiles by engaging with local communities. Mabuwaya, which means ‘long live crocodiles’ in Filipino, has helped achieve “cohabitation and acceptance of crocodiles in several localities in northern Luzon,” according to a press release by the Field Museum.
“As a long-standing member of the IUCN-SSC Crocodile Specialist Group, the dedication and adaptability that Merlijn van Weerd has directed to the conservation of Philippine crocodiles, is outstanding on any international scale you would like to compare it,” Grahame Webb, Chair of the IUCN-SSC Crocodile Specialist Group, told Mongabay.
The Philippine crocodile is the most threatened crocodile species in the world, and is found only in the Philippines and nowhere else. Once abundant, hunting of these crocodiles for skin, meat, sports, and retaliation due to fear, has pushed these reptiles towards extinction.
“This unique species of crocodile was very seriously depleted and truly endangered. The wild population was at best a few hundred individuals of all ages and sizes. This means they were in a far more serious state than many charismatic animals considered endangered,” Webb said. “Merlijn’s dedicated work, over decades, has turned this around and it serves as a model for what can be achieved, in difficult circumstances with tenacity, dedication and adaptability.”
The Mabuwaya Foundation regularly monitors Philippine crocodile habitats, rears and releases crocodile-hatchlings into the wild, and monitors their movements after being released. So far, the organization has helped improve crocodile numbers from “17 non-hatchlings in 2001 to over 60 non-hatchling crocodiles in 2014 with the potential for further recovery,” according to the press release.
Weerd has also helped establish the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park in northern Luzon, one of the largest protected areas in the Philippines. Moreover, in 2010, Weerd and his colleagues discovered the fruit-eating monitor lizard (Varanus bitatawa) — a close relative of the Komodo Dragon — in northern Luzon.
The Mabuwaya Foundation has now expanded its conservation efforts to other endangered species, such as the rare and endemic Isabela Oriole, the Philippine Eagle, and the fruit-eating monitor lizard.