The lush island province of Palawan (approximately 12,000 km2) is in the southwest of the Philippines. Due to a relatively low population density, the island has been spared from the major deforestation tragedy that took place in the rest of the Philippines, and approximately 50% of the primary forests in the province remain. Palawan has received international recognition by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve and it contains two World Heritage Sites. Nevertheless, the island remains relatively understudied and its forests are currently diminishing quickly.

There is a silver lining though: Puerto Princesa. This progressive City located in the middle portion of the island covers around 20% of province and holds a forest cover of 65%. Since 1994, the former mayor Edward S. Hagedorn led the City on a path towards sustainable development, and he banned logging and mining. His successor since 2013, Mayor Lucilo R. Bayron, is also focused on continuing to steer the City towards a sustainable future.

Puerto Princesa contains one national park (Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park—22,000 hectares) but approximately 80,000 hectares of pristine forest neighbouring the park until very recently remained unprotected. The centre of this large forest is shaped by Cleopatra’s Needle, locally known as Puyos Ni Ibay or simply Puyos for short, the highest peak of Puerto Princesa City and surroundings (1,593 MASL). This area is a real biological gem—not only is it the last haven for countless endemic flora and fauna species, it further serves as the largest watershed in the City, providing water for approximately 30% of the residents in the City. Most importantly, it is the ancestral domain of the last remaining 200 members of the diminishing indigenous Batak tribe, who have inhabited the area since time immemorial.

For these reasons, the Centre for Sustainability PH (CS) and its partners are extremely pleased to announce that after nearly 3 years of persistent hard work, a large portion of this forest area (41,350 hectares) was officially protected through the creation of the Cleopatra’s Needle Critical Habitat (CNCH) in 2016—the biggest Critical Habitat of the Philippines by 7-fold!