“He knows all of Cebu’s plants,” Jaime Picornell said in introducing Germany’s new honorary consul: Franz Seidenschwarz . “Add our birds, insects and trees,” the wife murmured to me in the audience.
We watched Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and Ambassador Christian Lortsche, at Casino Espanol rites, unveil the new consulate’s marker. That ended a 95 year absence. From 1871 to 1914, Germany had an Imperial Vice Consulate here.
“Most honorary consuls have legal or business backgrounds,” Sun Star columnist Lelani Echavez noted. But Germany chose a scientist. At San Carlos University, and with private groups, Seidenschwarz shaped Cebu’s ecological studies.
“The Rare and the Vanishing: Cebu’s Special Plants and Animals” is the title of a book he authored. In scientific journals, a rare damselfly, found only in Tabunan forests, that he described, is named as risiocenmis seidenschwarzi.
It helps this University of Munich graduate married a Cebuana: Elizabeth Cinco. He speaks Cebuano fluently.
“What’s wrong with the molave?”, Seidenschwarz asked stakeholders in Cebu’s denuded watersheds in 1998. “Or tindalo and kamagong”.
The Philippines had 1,478 species of trees. So why rely on “imports of exotics? These include Malaysia’s candlenut tree, teak from India or gemellina. Native trees – honed by centuries of evolution – are given short shrift in reforestation programs.
The “imported is sikat syndrome prevails”, he noted. Monocultures are low diversity, “so unlike the original and mixed forests of Cebu”— now down to only less than two percent of land area..
In Sun Star and Inquirer, our columns tracked his work over the years. The International Union for Conservation and Natural Resources, we wrote, entered, into its “Red List” of endangered species, Tabunan forest damselflies.
“In 2001, this miniscule population of dappled insects suddenly collapsed”, we recorded. “Local farmers, raising ampalaya, washed pesticide containers in the stream that time… Seidenschwarz photographed the last male in March 2001. “It remains to be seen whether the species survived this catastrophe,” ICUN said
What’s the big deal if a dragonfly or two disappear? No species disappears alone, Oxford University’s Norman Myers notes. When a plant or an animal slips into extinction, so do its unique genes. These are building blocks for life, food and medicine. Obliteration closes future options.
USC researchers listed 300-plus Cebu plants with medicinal properties. Only one has been tapped commercially: marijuana..
Seidenschwarz and colleagues documented birds and plants “endemic” or found only in Cebu. In 1992, they discovered a few Cebu flowerpecker (dicaeum quadricolor). Ornithologists wrote the bird off as extinct. Cebu cinnamon is also endangered.
Seidenschwarz helped design nature parks, including that of Maria Luisa subdivision. That’s where he lives today. In a treeless city, a three-hectare sliver is home for 42 bird species: the siloy ( black shama) found only in Cebu. Other rare birds are: Cebu White Eye and dwarf kingfisher,
In Kawasan Valley, Seidenschwarz’s team found the “Kawasan Mosquito Hawk damselfly. The Kawasan paper kite butterfly is named from the Cebuano lepidopterist Julian Jumalon. “You can’t find these in any other place in the world. Even in Cebu, they’re found only in Badian.”
Life has its ironies. Gov. Gwen Garcia honored the scientist who objected to her father’s construction of a mini-hydro plant at Mantayupan Falls. Then-Governor Pablo Garcia rode roughshod over concerns of biodiversity. “We may never know what we lost,” Seidenschwarz noted then.
At his oath taking, we reminded the mint-new German consul of his comment. Ikaw gyud, he smiled.