GINGOOG CITY -- Of six Philippine eagles released to the wild, of which four were rescued and rehabilitated before their release, and two were born and bred in captivity, only one remains in the wild successfully living the life Philippine eagles were made to live. Four were killed, while one had to be recaptured lest risk being killed.
Last Thursday, another rehabilitated Philippine eagle was released at the forested slopes of Mt. Balatukan Natural Park at sitio San Isidro, barangay Lonutan in Gingoog City, some 43 minutes up the mountains from the city’s business district. Whether this eagle, Minalwang, will add to the success or be one of the slain is but a risk the Philippine Eagle Foundation Inc. (PEF) will have to take in their bid to return eagles and forests to how they should be – thriving and healthy and able to sustain life.
Minalwang arrived at the Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos, Davao City on October 19, 2011, a very thin 3.1-kilogram eaglet of about a year old.
The PEF reported that one Datu Rico Pinaander learned of the eagle’s captivity and reported this to the city environment and natural resources office of Gingoog on October 17, 2011.
The captor claimed he did not deliberately capture the eagle. Rather, he found it distressed and wet under the rain the month before in Barangay Minalwang, Claveria town of Misamis Oriental, trying to fight off his dog who was attacking.
The eagle was captured and placed in a makeshift cage where it was fed rats, snakes and chicken until it was retrieved by Gingoog Cenro.
The captor at first refused to turn over the eagle, but was prevailed upon to do so, but only after demanding payment for the expenses he incurred in keeping the eagle alive.
The act of giving money to retrieve an eagle is discouraged by the PEF as it can work against conservation efforts.
“What we do is give some funds for the community to help them conserve the eagle and reward the nest finder,” PEF executive director Dennis I. Salvador said. The act of giving money for the rescue of an eagle, Salvador said, might just encourage the capture of eagles that can easily be claimed as having been rescued, just to get the reward money.
The emaciated bird weighing only 3.1 kilograms was brought to the PEF Center on October 19, 2011 for rehabilitation and treatment. Although both wings were bruised and it had a swelling in the eye incurred from rubbing on the leather hood, which is used to cover the eagle’s eyes so that it will not be agitated while being transported, it was found to have no fractures, infections, nor diseases.
Two years of rehabilitation followed that saw a healthy 3.85 kilos dropping out of the spectators’ view as soon as the door to its temporary hack cage was dropped at 8:45 a.m. last Thursday by the side of a ravine on Mt. Balatukan.
Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau’s Marie Almeda expressed confidence on Minalwang’s survival in the wild because of the show of support of the community that saw tribal leaders joining the program and offering a ritual sacrifice for the eagle.
Almeda further urged residents to conserve the forests so as to conserve the eagles.
The dwindling forests, however, has endangered the lives of the eagles as they are forced to prey on farm animals that infuriate farmers who in turn hunt the eagles.
This is the reason why Chick 23, the second Philippine eagle hatched and raised in captivity to be released was recaptured and deemed unable to survive in the wild.
“Chick 23 is at the Center,” Salvador said when asked how the eagle was doing.
“We had to recapture him because he was flying too close to the community,” he added.
Chick 23 was released in March 2011 and was recaptured the following year before further aggravating farmers.
Gingoog City Councilors Myrna Motoomull and Melleanette Mercado, who witnessed the release, promised to facilitate the passage of an ordinance enhancing protection of the natural park. Motoomull, who is the council committee on education chair, promised to include information dissemination about the Philippine eagles and forest conservation.
But they weren’t the first ones to exhibit enthusiasm and declare love for the eagle and the environment.
Amid much pomp and pageantry, eagle Kagsabua was released at the Mt. Kitanglad Natural Park in Sumilao, Bukidnon in March 2008. His legs and feathers were found in Impasug-ong town also in Bukidnon four months later. Farmer Bryan Balaon was found guilty of killing and cooking the eagle and was sentenced to six months in jail, a penalty that was a mere pittance to the expense incurred by the PEF in litigating the case.
Kagsabua was released with lessons from Kabayan, the first eagle released that was hatched and raised in captivity. Kabayan was doing well for one raised in captivity. He was already catching prey on its own and exploring Mount Apo after his release on April 22, 2004 at the PNOC-Energy Development Corporation site in Kidapawan City. He died on January 8, 2005 after perching on the high-voltage wire of PNOC-EDC. No one anticipated that eagles born in captivity had to also learn never to perch on high voltage wires. Kagsabua, who also arrived at the eagle camp for rehabilitation, was thus trained to stay away from wires.
Maybe he did, but he was shot dead and cooked.
Also shot dead was eagle Hagpa who was released in June 2010 after being treated for minor injuries for three weeks at the eagle center. He was believed shot dead four months after the release, a bullet-sized hole on its satellite transmitter a mute testimony to the cause of death.
The transmitter and leg band with some feathers and bones were found by a forest guard on September 6, 2010 on the banks of Binagyuhan Creek in sitio Mangilit, barangay Bal-ason in Gingoog City.
Also believed dead is Hineleban, who was released in Mt. Kitanglad in October 2009. A male eagle carcass was found at barangay Lupiagan in Bukidnon town of Bukidnon on January 15, 2010. But the carcass no longer hand the backpack transmitter.
Only eagle Kalabugao, a rescued eagle released back to the wild in October 2009 also in the Kitanglad Range, is surviving in the wild. One out of five, and hopefully this will become two out of six. That’s just a hope, as history would show… many of those killed were killed in the forests of Northern Mindanao.
It’s a never-ending struggle to save the eagles, and only the commitment of all, from the farmers who are nearest the forests to the government officials who can dictate how the forests will survive, will save the eagles.
“That’s why we have community programs that encourage forest conservation,” Salvador said, although all these efforts can easily be wiped out by development projects like mining.
It should never be a question of what should be of a priority, saving the eagles or saving humans, Salvador once said. In saving the eagles we are actually saving the humans.
On the week Minalwang was released, flashflood killed a 60-year-old farmer in Matanao, Davao del Sur after continuous rainfall that caused a flashflood. Aside from the death, a bridge in barangay Kabasagan was destroyed and so were 1.56 hectares coconut trees and 20 hectares bananas. All these from just rainfall. The destruction wrought by typhoon Pablo on December 4, 2012 is still fresh in our collective minds.