Get to know Bernard Abarquez, one of the caretakers of Girlie, the Philippine eagle at the Ninoy Aquino Park and Wildlife Center in Quezon City.
Text and illustration by Norman B. Isaac
Iused to work as a park ranger in Mindoro, where tamaraws roam,” Bernard Abarquez, 45 years old, says. He is now one of the caretakers of Girlie, the 35-year-old Philippine eagle, the exhibit bird for public education at the Ninoy Aquino Park and Wildlife Center in Quezon City. After the tragic death of Pamana, Girlie now symbolizes the precarious state of the critically endangered Philippine eagle, our national bird and the largest bird in the world. “There are less than a thousand,” says Dr. Stephen Toledo, the resident veterinarian. The magnificent raptor stands at one meter in height and has a wing span of about two meters.
Girlie originated from Bukidnon and was captured in 1982 by a certain Benjamin Lague using a slingshot, which damaged her right eye. Philippine eagles face the risk of extinction due to loss of habitat. If this persists, the young eagles will have no territories of their own to perpetuate their kind. Hunting of the species has also contributed to their declining population, as what happened to Pamana; they also run the risk of being injured, which accounts for the blindness of Girlie.
According to the Biodiversity Management Bureau, Girlie became the natural pair of Tsai (male eagle) in 1984. Copulation occurred from 1985 to 1986, with resulting egg production. On December 15-16, 1987, she laid a fertile egg, the first in Philippine eagle captive breeding history. That same day, the egg was removed, placed in an aseptic holder, and brought to the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) Davao office for artificial incubation.
After 17 days, the germ cell was dislocated, leading to embryological death.The pair was separated a few years after the transfer of the entire facility to Malagos area in 1988, since no breeding activity was observed from both birds. From then on, Girlie was assigned as an exhibit bird for educational purposes at the Ninoy Aquino Park and Wildlife Center.
When asked if Girlie has attacked him, Bernard says, “No. But (I have been attacked while) feeding the other birds. It was a Philippine hawk eagle which slashed my left cheek, and landed me in East Avenue Hospital.” By the way, Girlie is the solitary bird in the huge cage, which was renovated and maintained through the kindness of boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, a patron of the Philippine Eagle Foundation. “I feed Girlie carabeef—350 grams except Monday, her rest day—supplemented with B-22 powdered vitamins. Sometimes I give her mice, but not monkeys,” Bernard laughs.
This appeared in Animal Scene’s October 2015 issue.