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Did you know that aside from having one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, the Philippines also once hosted animals you thought would be found elsewhere?
As various fossil evidence would tell us, pre-historic Philippines contained a wide range of amazing animals that sadly didn’t make it to the modern era. And with various excavations still ongoing, we can assume that more amazing discoveries are just waiting to be found somewhere out there.
NOTE: Due to a lack of complete fossils or sketches thereof, we have instead used photos of the closest living relatives in some of the entries for comparison purposes only.
Table of Contents
The discovery of a fossilised upper jaw of a rhino in Fort Bonifacio in 1965 is evidence that endemic rhinoceroses once roamed the Philippines.
Due to the lack of a complete skeleton, little is known about Rhinoceros philippinensis, other than that it lived during the Pleistocene era (2.588 million – 11,700 years ago) and that it was essentially the larger version of its modern cousin, the Sumatran rhino.
Related Article: 12 Surprising Facts You Didn’t Know About Pre-Colonial Philippines
As evidenced by the discovery of toe bones in El Nido, Palawan, it is believed that tigers may have settled in the area 420,000 – 620,000 years ago by swimming all the way from Borneo which at the time was separated from our island by a mere few kilometers of water.
Later on, a small population of tigers became trapped in Palawan when the gap widened as a result of rising sea levels. This population gradually became extinct due to a combination of diminished prey, loss of habitat, and possible overhunting by our ancestors.
5. Pygmy Buffalo
Other than the world-famous Tamaraw, another species of dwarf buffalo is believed to have settled here in the Philippines, particularly on the island of Cebu between 10,000 – 100,000 years ago.
Scientists say its discovery is significant because it offered an insight into island dwarfism—an evolutionary phenomenon wherein animals become smaller over time in order to adapt to confined locations with meager resources.
Could it be our very own lovable askals descended from one of Australia’s most well-known animals?
Notwithstanding the two competing theories of whether dingos (or their ancestors thereof) came from India or China thousands of years ago, it is believed that these hunter-gatherers who brought along these dingos may have done a stopover in the Philippines before going to Australia.
Over time these dogs became less feral and ended up being fully domesticated by the inhabitants. The striking physical features between our askals and the dingo certainly add credence to this theory.
3. Dwarf Elephant
Dwarf elephants were believed to have lived in the Philippines—Luzon and Panay specifically—during the Pleistocene era.
Discoveries of various fossils help support the theory that land bridges could have helped these animals cross over to the archipelago. Accordingly, it is also held that during the pre-Spanish era, a wild elephant population existed in Jolo, their parents being two elephants given as gifts by the Javanese ruler to the Sultanate of Sulu.
The population continued to exist even with the coming of the Spaniards until it finally died out in 1850, most likely due to overhunting by the natives.
Stegodons, the extinct subfamily of elephants, were also known to have roamed the Philippines during the Pleistocene era.
Possessing larger skulls and lower crowned teeth than their counterparts, these massive animals were thought to have lived in different areas of Luzon and Mindanao, subsequently branching off into four distinct subtypes.
As with their fellow pachyderms, unfavorable geographical conditions and human intervention may contributed to their demise.
One of the oldest recorded fossils in the Philippines came from an ammonite specimen discovered in Mansalay town in Mindoro. Estimated to be 160 – 175 million years old, this specimen serves as the first-known evidence of animal life in the Philippines during the Mesozoic Era, better known as the “Age of Reptiles” (dinosaurs).
Incidentally, ammonites are related to octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish and closely resemble today’s nautilus.
How about the dinosaurs?
We know what you’re probably thinking: “Were there also dinosaurs?” For now, we cannot be sure.
The odds of finding dinosaur bones are certainly great, keeping in mind that the archipelago came out of the sea long after the dinosaurs were gone. However, as we’ve mentioned, we have barely managed to scratch the surface in discovering the rich pre-history of our country.
We can also take into account that people once thought dinosaurs never lived in New Zealand, yet a single accidental discovery revealed that the country once teemed with these animals.
Featured image via www.khoratfossil.org
Evolution of Island Mammals: Adaptation and Extinction of Placental Mammals
National Museum of the Philippines