The killing of Pamana (Legacy) in Mount Hamiguitan Range, Davao Oriental reminds us that the one truly at the losing end is not our national bird’s species, but ours, human beings.
Pamana was just released last June 12 on our Independence Day. After only a short span of two months however, last August 16, she was found dead by the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) biologists and forest guard only about a kilometer away from the release site in San Isidro in Davao Oriental.
The three-year old Philippine eagle’s freedom could have been granted freely. The bullet hole found in her right breast however, marked how some of us choose to deny their species of this privilege—almost always, helplessly.
The following article was first published in the Atenews E-mag 2 issue last 2014:
Joey Ayala once wrote in his song, ‘Haring Ibon’:
“Tiniklop na nila ang kanilang mga pakpak. Hinubad na nila ang kanilang mga plumahe.” The sad reality is, “Sila’y nagsipagtago sa natitirang gubat. Ang lahi ba nila’y tuluyan nang mawawala?”
Endemic to the Philippines, particularly in “geographically restricted” islands of Luzon, Samar, Leyte, and Mindanao, the Philippine Eagle has been known to be endangered when a Filipino scientist, Dr. Dioscoro Rabor, alerted the public of its standing in 1965. It was included in the red list of Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1994. A year later, President Fidel Ramos declared it as the country’s national bird.
The Philippine Eagle has nape feathers that form into a shaggy crest and has a wingspan of two meters or seven feet, the broadest in the world.
Like most eagles, it is solitary and fiercely territorial. Though the Philippine Eagle was first recognized to be monogamous and remains unpaired after a mate’s death, philippineagle.org affirms that natural pairing techniques show that the eagle search for another partner. Sexual maturity for females is at around five years, while for the males is at seven.
As one of the largest and most powerful eagles in the world, the Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) has been the focus of attention of the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), a private, non-stock, non-profit organization undertaking research, rehabilitation, and captive breeding of the eagles since 1987. In 1992, Pag-asa (Hope) and Pagkakaisa (Unity) were hatched and bred in captivity. The hatchlings have received support worldwide because they are among the world’s rarest species.
THREATS AND SURVIVAL
PEF Communications Officer Jonasyl Aubrey Auxtero noted that at present, there is an estimated 400 pairs of Philippine Eagles left in the wild.
There are many threats to the survival of the Philippine Eagle. They are hunted despite the existing laws intended for their protection. They are also killed without provocation, or worse, just for sport.
The forests are continually denuded, leading to the loss of nesting places. Other indirect factors also threaten the conservation of the eagle. Urbanization, poverty, apathy towards the environment, and the like are factors as well. The fact that it takes two years for a pair to produce an offspring is another aspect.
Deforestation and the continuous degradation of the environment are among the main reasons why there are fewer eagles left in the wild. In its efforts to mitigate the problem, PEF has been actively initiating projects that help invigorate deforested areas while helping provide livelihood to the communities in the locality.
LESSONS FROM PREVIOUS RELEASES
Minalwang, a Philippine Eagle, graced newspapers last October 2013 when reports said that he was shot. However, according to Auxtero, the media disseminated a different story.
Minalwang was a male juvenile turned over to PEF bruised and malnourished last October 19, 2011 after staying in captivity for a month. Almost two years after the Philippine Eagle Center took care of Minalwang, he was transferred to his new home at the heart of the splendid Mt. Balatukan National Park in Misamis Oriental.
Aside from isolating him from humans to avoid habituation, he went through aversion training where he was taught to veer away from electric posts to avoid accidental electrocution before being released. This was an important lesson learned from Kabayan (Countryman), the first captive-bred released last 2005.
The release process, known as soft release or hacking, involved the construction of a temporary cage made of cyclone wire called a hack box. Minalwang was transported from the Philippine Eagle Center to the hack box at the release site where he resided for three weeks to adjust to the environment. He was released back into the wild last August 15.
Last October 11, 2013, not more than two monts after the release, Minalwang was found dead tracked by radio telemetry. Based on the necropsy findings, the bird died of infection that was aggravated by his captivity.
PEF Executive Director Dennis Salvador acknowledged before Minalwang was freed that keeping the eagles alive in the wild is the difficult part.
Because of threats outside the center, the lifespan of eagles in the wild is shorter than those of the captive-bred. In an interview with MindaNews after Kabayan’s release last 2004, Salvador emphasized that despite PEF’s efforts, “eagles belong in the forest” and it is a must that they learn to survive “natural and human-induced” risks.
CONTINUING THE ADVOCACY
The Foundation continues its conservation efforts to augment the dwindling population of the Philippines Eagle. Last year, the success of the conservation program, through the hatching of Mabuhay (Viva), marked the second generation of eagles bred in captivity.
Mabuhay is the offspring of Pag-asa and Kalinawan (Peace), a rescued eagle from Zamboanga del Sur.
Auxtero said that the Philippine Eagle is an effective gauge of the environment’s health and its conservation can create an umbrella of protection for all the unique life forms that dwell in the Philippine forest.
“With the calamities that have afflicted our country, the protection of our environment should remain a priority. The preservation of the Philippine Eagle and their habitat is the preservation of our future as well,” she concluded in the interview.
As the chorus of the songs calls people to take part in saving Haring Ibon, “O, haring ibon, hari kong tunay. Nais kong tumulong nang kaharian mo’y muling mabuhay”.