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:
Three people, in succession, reported another immature eagle needing rescue last October 4. DENR’s Edgar Agbayani texted that they wish PEF to help assess the bird. An hour later, Prof. Vic Amoroso of Central Mindanao University called. He just came back from a field expedition in the same mountain where the bird was caught and he got news of the bird from his field trustee. Prof Fulgent Cortico, Amoroso’s colleague, messaged too and sent photos of the rescued bird.
All three narrated that the eagle was accidentally caught in a native trap intended for palm civets at the Pantaron mountains of San Fernando town in Bukidnon last October 1. Bukidnon Provincial Veterinarian Carmen Simene-Tangara, with DENR staff handed the bird over to PEF on October 5 in Malaybalay City.
The bird was transported to PEC and was examined. It weighed 3.9kgs, had good muscles, and appeared to have no injuries, although x-ray showed an air gu pellet lodged at the right wing of the bird.
Because it has not eaten since October 1, PEF Animal Keeper Dominic Tadena hand-fed the bird with fresh rat meat laced with supplements. The bird’s eyes were covered by a leather hood, but the starving bird gobbled up each meat that touched its beak greedily. Half-way through the feeding, it plunged its face into the meat bowl and ate voraciously by itself despite being blind-folded.
The bird awaits further tests inside its cage at the PEF’s quarantine area, just like eagle “Caraga.”
Collaboration and technology are key
“This is the highest number of eagles we have rescued so far in a span of just seven months,” said Dennis Salvador, Philippine Eagle Foundation Executive Director. “And we are very glad that despite the pandemic’s travel and movement restriction, we were able to save 6 of these 7 precious birds, with three of them healed and successfully released back to their respective forest homes,” he added.
Collaboration was one key ingredient: from concerned citizens reporting an eagle in distress; to DENR, PEF and LGU cooperating to rescue, medicate and bring back an eagle’s health; to releasing and monitoring the released bird with the help of trained community volunteers and their respective barangay and Indigenous organizations.
Another is technology. Because of social media, eagle Siocon was cooperatively saved. His situation gave rise to the first telemedicine case in the program’s history of eagle rescue and rehabilitation. Social media also enhanced netizen reporting of sick or injured wildlife that needed rescuing. During the pandemic where people’s movement is limited, more people seemed to have become mindful of their immediate environment, and had spare time to observe and report wildlife in distress.
Instrumenting released eagles with lightweight radio and GPS trackers helped tremendously in keeping tab on released eagles. Field-based radio tracking is a user-friendly tool. Trained local volunteers can easily do it on their own.
Solar-powered GPS-GSM trackers installed on each bird back-pack style, on the other hand, sends accurate geographic locations of the instrumented birds to PEF. PEF can then send these GPS readings to field biologists and volunteers to aid them in “homing-in” and observing a released bird.
Clear and present danger
But eagle offenses, such as the intentional trapping and selling of eagle “Balikatan,” and the trapping of eagle “Caraga” that resulted to a serious leg fracture, raised a red flag. These are clear assaults against the “protected” status of our national bird.
The Philippines have laws that protect our endangered wildlife. Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, for instance, penalized those who either possess, harm or kill endangered wildlife. Destroying their nesting and feeding areas are fined too. If someone kills a “critically endangered species” like the Philippine eagle, a wildlife criminal can be jailed for a maximum of 12 years and fined a total of Php 1,000,000.00.
“The DENR has the mandate to enforce wildlife laws, and we have just launched a full investigation into these cases,” said Ricardo Calderon, DENR Assistant Secretary for Climate Change and concurrent Director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau of DENR. “If proven guilty, the perpetrators will face the full extent of the law,” he wrote in a statement.
The late Dioscoro Rabor, Father of Philippine Wildlife Conservation, once said that the “Philippine Eagle is as Filipino as we are all Filipinos.” As our national symbol, every individual of our national bird has a right to a decent life, just like each citizen of this country. Our wildlife laws are meant to protect that fundamental animal right.
“We urge the public to help step-up wildlife law enforcement by reporting violations to your respective DENR regional offices. And should any of our citizens wish to volunteer as a wildlife law enforcer, they can also contact the nearest DENR office, sign-in, get trained and be deputized as Wildlife Enforcement Officers (WEO) in the respective areas,” Calderon said in closing.