By Jayson Ibanez of Philippine Eagle Foundation
SEVEN individuals of the “critically endangered” Philippine eagle were rescued since the COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines. One died of malnutrition; three were released back to the wild; and three are currently under rehabilitation. Here are their stories:
Faz Weble of DENR Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte phoned the Philppine Eagle Foundation (PEF) about a captive eagle on April 16. A farmer found the weak bird hiding in the bushes at the forest edge. He cradled the animal, hopped on a tricycle, and surrendered the feeble bird to DENR. But it was the peak of travel bans and Siocon is a long, 20-hour drive from Davao City. PEF could not get to the bird. Medication and rehabilitation must be made on-site.
Mobile technology and social media became vital. The PEF and DENR cooperated to restore Siocon’s health via video conferencing, phone calls, and text messages. The bird weighed 3.9 kgs, is about 3-4 years old (barely sexually mature), and is probably male.
DENR quickly built a spacious holding cage inside their office yard. A complete wall of tarp around her wire cage covered Siocon’s view of her caretaker, and curious onlookers. Isolation is crucial so that the eagle does not associate food with people. Otherwise, he will fly close to houses and beg food whenever she goes hungry in the wild. This can endanger his life.
DENR and their collaborators cared for Siocon diligently. To avoid deadly bird-borne diseases, feeding the bird with poulty meat was banned. DENR’s Matt Sailela – Siocon’s care taker – fed her exclusively with beef and rabbit meat. A daily supply of beef was manageable, but finding rabbit in remote Siocon was challenging. They had to bring in rabbit from Zamboanga City, which is 153 km away from Siocon.
Department of Agriculture (DA) veterinarians in Zamboanga City travelled twice to Siocon to give medicines, vitamins, and supplements. They took mouth and cloacal swabs to test for Avian Flu and New Castles Diseases – top two highly contagious bird viral diseases, and drew blood samples for baseline values and DNA sexing. PEF Vet Consultant Ana Lascano in Davao City remotely assisted the DA Vets.
The telemedicine and on-line rehabilitation worked. Siocon’s release was greenlighted after her virus tests were negative. Holding travel passes from five provinces and two cities, the PEF team drove 20 hours across 15 quarantine checkpoints to attach a backpack radio transmitter and a solar-powered GPS/GSM tracker on the bird. The trackers allow monitoring of the eagle’s movement and safety for the next 3-4 years.
On the morning of May 21, a day before the world celebrated “International Biodiversity Day,” Siocon flew to his freedom. Siocon has now settled inside the protected forests of Balinguian town, 3 km away from his release site.
The call came from Quirino Province in Luzon. On April 17, Star Passion, Provincial Environment Officer reported a captive eagle in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat – a coastal town 103 km west of General Santos City. We got the bird’s whereabouts, and remotely organized a rescue with DENR and Palimbang town officials. Amia Rose Damka, Palimbang Environment Officer and her team saved the bird from a mob of curious residents who poked and taunted the poor animal while it was tied by the leg at the center of the village plaza.
The bird was a juvenile eagle – a little over a year old who still depends on its parents for food. A local saw the bird on the forest floor a few days back. This is our first record of the Philippine eagle within this part of Sultan Kudarat.
Palimbang is just a 7-hour drive from Davao, but transboundary movement was very difficult because of the pandemic. Onsite rehabilitation was the only option. Palimbang Mayor Joenime Kapina took custody of the eagle at his residence, and the local DENR engaged Kalamansig town veterinarian Cris Deo Donguinis to help with the bird’s recovery. DENR staff and Donguinis drove two hours to Palimbang twice – on April 19 to administer first aid, and April 27 to monitor her progress.
But the bird lost a lot of weight and was not eating well. During the second visit, the vet had to mix dextrose solution to its food and “hand-feed” the bird. On site rehabilitation did not work well for eagle Palimbang, as Mayor Kapina’s team was mostly out of reach during the rehabilitation period.
On May 7, DENR staff took custody of the eagle and transported it to Davao City for emergency medical attention at the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC). At the quarantine checkpoint along the Davao City and Sta-Cruz boundary, DENR Davao and PEF received the bird, PEF Vet Lascano quickly hydrated the eagle with fluids and electrolytes to energize it for the next journey.
At the center, all hands were on deck to stabilize the bird. The usual x-ray, and blood workup were skipped because the bird was so fragile; a pierce of a needle through its brittle veins might bleed it to death. The bird weighed 1.8 kgs – severely underweight by eagle standards. It was very weak and sunken, and its almond-shaped eyes reflect severe dehydration. Its body condition score (BCS) was rated at 1 (very poor), which also say that he was very thin and malnourished. The bird was just bones and skin.
PEC staff gave emergency food via tube-feeding with ground rabbit liver mixed with food supplements and antibiotic. The eagle took it all in and did not vomit. The bird was then isolated at our quarantine facility to rest and recuperate.
But the bird didn’t make it. Eagle Palimbang died near midnight of May 9.
It was June 8 and I got a text message from Marisol Pedregosa, Energy Development Corporation (EDC) environment officer in Kidapawan City about a Facebook post showing a captive Philippine eagle. I clicked the FB link and the photo of a manhandled eagle appeared. The bird was in Barangay Kisante in Makilala, North Cotabato.
This FB account owner claimed tat the bird was pinned to the ground by a flock of aggressive crows. Three locals rescued the bird and handed it over to Kisante officials. The PEF rescue team responded and it took them two hours to get to Kisante. Meanwhile, I phoned DENR North Cotabato and they rushed to Kisante to secure the bird away from the noisy crowd of locals while the PEF team was in transit.
The bird was standing on a perch inside the community jail when the PEF team arrived. Animal keeper Adriano Oxales entered the cell, sized-up the bird, and swiftly grabbed its legs the moment it looked away. With extra help, Oxales successfully restrained the bird.
But the bird also got a piece of its handler. After Oxales caught its legs, the aggressive eagle retaliated with a quick bite. A veteran eagle handler, Oxales ducked to avoid the attack. But the eagle’s neck was long. Its huge beack caught his forehead. Oxales emerged triumphantly from the cell with the fully restrained eagle, but with a shallow cut right above his left eye.
PEF Vet consultant Bayani Vandenbroeck made a quick check-up and injected the bird with fluids and vitamins as emergency nourishment. He also treated Oxales’ cut with topical antiseptic. The team drove off proud, with an apparently healthy bird.
After getting cleared of viral diseases, and over a month of rehabilitation at the PEC, the bird was finally released back to its forest home in Mt. Apo. The bird is female, and perhaps four years old. She was named Makilala, namesake of the town where she was rescued from. She was also given the second name “Hiraya” – and old Tagalog saying which translates to “may your heart’s wishes come true”; a name given by EDC, her benefactor.
As the world celebrated the International Day for Nature Conservation on July 28, she was set free with a GPS/GSM tracker on her back. Her release was live-streamed on FB live. It was the first ever live broadcast of an eagle release via the internet. As of October 3, 2020, Makilala Hiraya was within the protected ancestral domain of the Indigineous Obu Manobo in Magpet town, 13km north of her release site.