The endemic Philippine duck has just gained an additional 178 hectares as its safe haven, this time far up in Northern Luzon.

The addition came in the form of Administrative Order No. 2012-01 signed recently by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje, declaring the Malasi Tree Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Barangay San Antonio in Cabagan, Isabela as a critical habitat for the Philippine duck (Anas luzonica) and other water bird species.

The designation of the critical habitat is in accordance with Republic Act (RA) No. 9147, also known as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.

“This is a major step to conserve and protect the Philippine duck as the area becomes now a protected area, which means that the communities around it should make an effort to minimize human activities that will have adverse impact to the animal,” he said.

Critical habitats are areas that are preserved to support the perpetual existence of a certain plant or animal species, whether they are migratory or naturally occurring in an area.

Under the Administrative Order, the DENR Region 2 is tasked to manage the Malasi Sanctuary in partnership with the Cabagan local government unit (LGU) and other concerned organizations, and in accordance with a Critical Habitat Management Plan specifically prepared for the area.

They are to ensure that any developmental activities within or in the periphery of the declared critical habitat would undergo the necessary assessment process to safeguard the area’s ecological integrity.

They are also to enforce all applicable environmental laws especially those governing acts prohibited by RA 9147 such as dumping of waste products, human settlement, mineral exploration or extraction, burning, logging or quarrying.

The Philippine duck has been described as “the tropical version of the mallard,” a type of duck commonly found in more temperate regions such as the Americas and Europe. Its population has been on a decline, prompting the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify it as “vulnerable” under its Red List of Threatened Species.

The Malasi area is already familiar among avid bird watchers as it is a known sanctuary for various species of ducks, herons, and other migrant birds. It has also been found to support a significant population of the Philippine duck.

In September 2011, the DENR had also declared a 27-hectare wetland area in Cabusao, Camarines Sur as a critical habitat for the Philippine duck.