Philippine Eagle Conservation

The Philippine Raptors Conservation Program (PRCP) was started in 1990 by the Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR)-Protected Areas & Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) to help conserve our wildlife particularly the Philippine Eagle, and other raptors. Known Philippine eagle habitats covers the following Regions: 1, 2-CAR, 3, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13-CARAGA where its flagship program, the magnificent Philippine eagle reigns supreme. Other raptors, the likes of which include Brahminy kites, Crested serpent eagles, Philippine hawk eagles, Scops owls, Grass owls, etc., although were not classified as endangered, but have become vulnerable due to their declining numbers.

The program evolved in the wake of increasing awareness towards the conservation of the critically endangered Philippine eagle, and other raptors. The magnificent Philippine eagle was listed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered, owing to the estimated 500 pairs that continue to soar amidst threats to its very existence. Vestiges of human persecution among them, poaching and illegal trading, killing and misconceptions contributed to the dwindling population of the Philippine eagles. The PRCP aims to improve and harmonize conservation efforts towards helping the Philippine Eagle defy extinction, particularly to address the direct and indirect threats to their population with relevant conservation actions concerning law enforcement, management of captive and wild populations, research and conservation education.

At present, only 18% of the original forest remains and old-growth forests continue to diminish. Raptors cannot live without the forests. Loss of habitat means loss of breeding sites, cover, and hunting areas for the eagles. This scenario can indirectly translate to mortality because eagle food and space requirements are not met. Suggestions have indicated that a more direct cause of decline is breeding failures. However, recent analysis of the breeding successes in Mindanao based on 50 nesting attempts of 29 pairs from 1978 to 1998 averaged 58%. Breeding successes based only on eight pairs with more than one recorded nesting attempt averaged 76.3%. These figures are relatively high and indicate that eagles, at least in Mindanao, are breeding well. This finding points to another probable cause of decline and that suggests high death rates for juveniles, sub-adults as well as adults. The National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS) or R.A. 7586 calls for the establishment and management of protected areas to conserve the natural heritage on in situ conservation where eighteen (18) eagles have been produced using both cooperative and natural pairing techniques; three (3) of these captive bred eagles died- two (2) from congenital anomalies and one (1) from electrocution.

A high death rate among young eagles is a cause for alarm because this would mean that no young birds are replacing old and dying ones. If many old eagles are also dying beyond normal rates, population collapse is inevitable. Shooting and trapping seem to be the major causes of eagle deaths. From 1999 to 2000 alone, five eagles were shot in Mindanao. In Luzon, three (3) eagles were trapped from 2002 to 2003 at the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. Out of four (4) young eagles tagged with transmitters from 1998 to 2002, three (3) were lost to hunting and trapping. Evidences from these studies revealed that eagles remain very vulnerable to hunting. From January to August 2011, six (6) Philippine eagles were rescued and retrieved. Three (3) succumbed to aspergillosis, a common fungal infection among raptors, as a sequela from the gunshot wounds it had sustained.

Among the identified Philippine eagle habitats are:

? Penablanca Landscape and Seascape
? Casecnan Protected Landscape
? Quirino Protected Landscape
? Samar Island Protected Landscape
? Pasonanca Natural Park
? Siocon Resource Reserve
? Mt. Timolan Protected landscape
? Mt. Balatukan Range Natural Park
? Mt. Matutum Protected Landscape
? Mt. Inayawan Natural Park

Recently, six other areas were added as additional Philippine Eagle habitats:

? Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park
? Aurora Memorial National Park
? Mt. Apo Natural Park
? Kitanglad Natural Park
? Pasonanca Natural Park
? Mt. Malindog Natural Park

Our mission?To ensure species propagation and highlight the importance of these birds of prey and their contributions in attaining ecological balance. To disseminate information, allay fears and perceptions on these magnificent birds of prey.

What we do?

Rescue, Retrieval, Rehabilitation & Release

When an eagle is injured, the PRCP leader and Staff along with the local Regional Eagle Watch Teams (REWTs) are mobilized to facilitate the successful retrieval of the bird especially when it has fallen into unfamiliar territory. Rescuing these birds of prey requires urgency to avoid inflicting further harm and the prompt response is imperative to the eagle?s well being and general condition. More often than not, improper handling techniques and complications brought about by mishandling may arise from these incidents. After such efforts, the birds are nursed, cared for and undergo a rehabilitative process to enable them to assume their pre-captive states prior to their release. A prolonged stint at the rehabilitation center is not advisable for raptors; those eagles that have been with humans for long also suffer the same fate. They approach humans, making them more vulnerable to hunters. This behavior is very characteristic of juvenile eagles bred in captivity or those that have been confined for prolonged periods. The birds acquire ?filial imprinting?, who become attached to their captors, hence, the proclivity to human interaction often occurs. The ultimate goal of any rescue, retrieval and rehabilitation of any raptor, particularly the Philippine eagle, is to release it back into the wild, where it rightfully belongs.

A recently released adult female Philippine eagle, RAQUEL was set free last May 6, 2011 at Bgy. Casala, San Mariano, Isabela. Raquel had been under the care of local officials for over a year before she went back to her natural habitat. The bird underwent a thorough medical check-up and various laboratory tests were performed before she was declared fit for release.

The various LGUs, Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), Mabuwaya Foundation and the local townsfolk contributed to this worthwhile effort. A GPS satellite tag and transmitter, courtesy of PEF were mounted on the bird to continue tracking movements on its post- release. Raquel?is now the first adult Philippine eagle in the world with this tracking device. Latest data obtained showed that she has expanded her territory and is adapting quite well.

The eagles that have been rescued continue to rise. Just recently, a juvenile Philippine eagle was shot and rescued at a remote town in Calbiga, Samar last June 23, 2011. The juvenile female raptor (approximately less than 3 years old) sustained a gunshot wound on the proximal portion of its left wing. However, despite all efforts to save the bird, it succumbed to respiratory failure secondary to a severe systemic fungal infection last August 12, 2011.

Before any eagle is deemed fit for release, our veterinarians assess the bird?general condition, its feeding habits, survival and hunting abilities. An extensive medical check-up is integral to any release activity. Intensive IECs among the communities living in or within the vicinity of known and confirmed Philippine eagle habitats are enjoined to partake of such activities to ensure the bird?s safety. However, not all of the rescued or captive Philippines eagles can be released back into the wild. Those with injured wings, legs or eyes, are not the best candidates for release because they may not be able to fend for themselves.

Girlie, the resident Philippine eagle at the Ninoy Aquino Parks & Wildlife Center (NAPWC) is a perfect example. She was hit in the right eye with a slingshot that made it difficult for her to survive in the wild. She had also been unable to produce viable eggs for a number of years. Girlie was swapped with another captive bred eagle to augment the raptor population in the archipelago. This magnificent eagle is now at NAPWC where she reigns supreme.

Wild Population Management

a) Habitat Management

Whenever Philippine eagle nests are sighted, the area where it thrives is protected to ensure species propagation that is critical to sustaining the eagles needs to survive in the wild. The wanton destruction of forests, illegal logging activities, and mining concessions has contributed tremendously to the loss of viable populations. The declared ?critical habitats? provide safe havens for our critically endangered birds of prey. Critical habitats refer to areas outside protected areas under R.A. 7586 that are known habitats of threatened species and designated as such based on scientific data, taking into consideration species endemism and or richness, presence of man-made pressures/threats to the survival of wildlife living in the area.

Habitat loss due to destruction, fragmentation or degradation of habitat?is the primary threat to the survival of our wildlife. When an ecosystem has been dramatically changed by human activities such as agriculture, oil and gas exploration, commercial development or water diversion?it may no longer be able to provide the food, water, cover, and places to raise their young. Every day, there are fewer places left that wildlife can call home.

The principal limiting factor for Philippine Eagle populations is the low survival rates of juveniles and sub-adults and their inability to disperse across disturbed habitats between forest fragments (Miranda et al. 2000, Salvador and Ibanez op cit.). The fragmentation of habitats renders the species vulnerable to hunting and other forms of persecution, including the capture of birds and nestlings for private and public display (Salvador and Ibanez op cit.).

The Wildlife Resources and Conservation Act or R.A. 9147 that was enacted into law prohibits the hunting and killing, possession, and illegal trading of this magnificent bird. Laws governing wildlife protection and conservation must be strictly enforced to ensure continuity of the species. Court cases have been filed against known Philippine eagle killers in Bukidnon, among others. The perpetrators of such crimes towards these helpless birds of prey will not go to naught.

Survey and Monitoring

Surveys are conducted by the Regional Eagle Watch Teams (REWTs) to monitor known and identified Philippine eagle nesting sites. REWTs embark on long journeys traversing mountainous and rugged terrains to observe such sites and to document breeding, flight and dispersal patterns, and hunting activities of the eagles. Whenever close contact is possible, such as when the eagle has abandoned the nest, photo documentations as to the character of the nest, (e.g. nest building) is likewise studied. Eagles have been observed to utilize their nests for a number of times. Surveys are also important because it allows us to observe the nestlings (a young bird that does not yet have its flight feathers and is unable to leave the nest) and how they respond to the food that is offered to them by their parents. It allows us to identify their preferred prey items and how the parent eagles lovingly feed their young. Fledglings (a young bird that has recently become capable of flight) are observed when they descend and start to explore their surroundings.

Surveys also reveal sightings of Philippine eagle pairs. Studies have showed that these birds remain loyal to their mates and they bond for life. Recent sightings of thirteen (13) Philippine eagles including two (2) observed active nests presents a glimmer of hope for our critically endangered birds of prey. This remarkable feat amidst the ever-increasing threats and mortalities demonstrate that efforts intended at wildlife conservation by PAWB and its partners has gained an impetus for our untiring and relentless measures towards preservation of the species. The declining population of Philippine eagles was most noticeable on juvenile eagles probably because they venture away from the nests in their quest to familiarize themselves with their surroundings and satisfy their curiosity. Impervious of the great task that lies before us, measures relative to increase the populations of these magnificent birds persist.

Collaboration with our Partners

Through the years, the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) has been closely working with PAWB on captive breeding of Philippine eagles to promote a greater understanding of the eagles? biology, food habits and survival. It opens opportunities for research on eagle breeding behaviors that will substantially increase our understanding of their ecology and biology. Working with partners, PAWB uses a range of conservation tools to "recover" endangered and threatened species?to ensure that they are secure members of their ecosystems. These tools include restoring and acquiring habitat, removing introduced animal predators or invasive plant species, conducting surveys, monitoring individual populations, and breeding species in captivity and releasing them into their historic range.

Public Education & Awareness

Information dissemination is important in the continuity of the Philippine eagle population. Various LGUs are actively involved in conducting lectures and seminars towards misconceptions on the eagle. More often than not, these birds are perceived as ?pests?, hence the need to educate the public on their importance in attaining equilibrium in the ecosystem. The Philippine eagles are good biological indicators, that its presence in the forests tells us that our forests reserves are adequate and are able to sustain not only our needs, but our wildlife as well.

Philippine Eagle Week (PEW)

June 4-10 of each calendar year has been designated as Philippine Eagle Week. PAWB has introduced the Adopt-a-Wildlife-Species Program (AAWSP), to kindle active participation of the private and business sectors, corporations and NGOs in helping conserve our wildlife. The AAWSP also offers a tax incentive for the adopting agencies.

Activities included the hanging of streamers and tarpaulins along major thoroughfares, continued IECs conducted by the Regional Eagle Watch Teams (REWTs), and Dalaw Turo. Radio broadcasts, local TV guestings and appearances coincided with the celebrations of PEW.

(1) Dalaw Turo An integral part of wildlife conservation is information dissemination. This is achieved by conducting informal teachings, lectures, exhibits, art contests and seminars, visiting local schools and colleges and imparting to them the importance that these animals play in our daily lives. During the month long celebration of Philippine Eagle Week (PEW), the children are informed utilizing footages/videos of our national bird. As part of the ongoing information education campaigns of the bureau, avenues to further reach out and inculcate proactive participation of the populace is encouraged.

(2) Capacity Building and Networking Trainings and seminars are held to equip our Regional Eagle Watch Teams (REWTs) on the proper way of handling raptors. Paralegal trainings are also conducted to deputize Wildlife Enforcement Officers (WEOs) whenever an eagle is hurt, hunted or killed. As an aftermath, court cases have been filed and are currently on going to prosecute the perpetrators of such crimes against our eagles, sentences will be meted, and the fullest extent of the law will apply to anyone who continues to defile the Wildlife and Conservation Act.

Research

Two (2) ongoing research projects undertaken by PEF in collaboration with the REWTs are the following:

a) Experimental releases whose primary aim is to refine release methods/protocols as a prelude to full species reintroduction program for Philippine eagles that involves the release of captive bred eagles. This was started in 1994 on three (3) captive bred eagles namely Kabayan, released at Mt. Apo in 2004; Hineleban, released at Mt. Kitanglad in 2009 and Chick 23 also in Mt. Kitanglad last March 2011. Kabayan was electrocuted while a group of drunkards killed ?Hineleban. Both eagles were puppet reared by caretakers at the Philippine eagle Center (PEC). A third captive bred-eagle, named Chick 23 was released last March 2011 at Mt. Kitanglad.

Telemetry studies on the dispersal and movement patterns for wild juvenile eagles. This involves telemetry studies on both juvenile and adult eagles trapped for this purpose, rescued and rehabilitated juveniles as well. A study on the dispersal and movement patterns of wild juvenile eagles was initially undertaken in 2000 and 200 revealed that three (3) of the trapped eagles died. Presently, three juvenile eagles are currently monitored, apart from Raquel.

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