Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tigers in Palawan

The University of the Philippines Archaeological Studies Program (ASP) recently announced that scientists working on the Palawan Island Palaeohistoric Project have unearthed the fossil remains of tigers in Ille Cave in the Dewil Valley, El Nido, Palawan.

This is an important discovery on the prehistory and evolution of Philippine biota. The Philippines has long been known known by biogeographers as a fauna that lacks major representatives of Asian animals. While we have a unique fauna, most of these are characteristic of oceanic islands. We have a high biodiversity of rats, since they rapidly evolved in the Philippines with the lack large predators. The largest land carnivore in the Philippines is the reticulated python while the largest aerial predator is the Philippine eagle. That was before this tiger discovery.

Even then palaeontologists have long known that large herbivores such as elephants roamed the larger Philippine islands. Their fossils are often found and are on display at the National Museum on Burgos Drive and its Tuguegarao branch. The geology museum in UP has a fossil tusk and the Museo Iloilo has bones.

If you watch Animal Planet shows where lions hunt down large prey, the question would be, what are the predators of these elephants? Prehistoric man may have been one of them since their stone tools were associated with some fossils.

With the discovery of fossil tigers in Palawan, the existence of large carnivores in Luzon and Mindanao becomes even more plausible. This would also suggest the existence of Homo erectus in the Philippines. While this was hypothesized by Otley Beyer, we haven't found fossil remains of this human species. Lawrence Heaney hypothesized that it is very likely that erectus would be found in Palawan than in Luzon.

Also the presence tigers may suggest the presence of other large mammals and possibly island forms of prehistoric human species like what was found in Flores, Indonesia.

Of course this would involve more archaeological work. The ASP would have its job cut for it. I have been collaborating with ASP on the identification of shells from their digs.

1 comment:

Wouter Kulche said...

I'd say: pay extra attention to the Zamboanga peninsula and the Basilan, Jolo, Tawi-Tawi island string towards Borneo in the search. During glacial periods and the low sea level they caused this region likely formed a 'land bridge' for mammals including man. And so there might have been a higher density of finds in that area.