MENTION Davao City and what comes to people’s mind: effective smoking ban, well-loved Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, controversial durian fruit, world-class waling-waling orchid, and the noble Philippine eagle.
Among these Davao symbols, if you call them that way, only Philippine eagle is the country’s icon. Declared in 1995 as the national bird, the Philippine Eagle is one of the largest and most powerful eagles in the world. It is also one of the world’s rarest and certainly among the most critically endangered species.
Currently, only 1,500 pairs of Philippine eagle are recorded. They are found only in Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao. Once these eagles cease to exist, they will be gone forever. We cringe on that day when we see these birds only in photographs in newspapers, magazines, televisions and websites.
Hunting has been blamed as a major culprit, and that is true enough. But it is the destruction of their natural habitat -- the tropical rainforest -- that is the principal cause of their rapid disappearance.
The natural habitat of Philippine eagle consists mainly of old-growth forests from 100 meters to 1,000 meters above sea level. Unfortunately, these are the habitats that are also fast disappearing due to deforestation.
“Deforestation is terrible,” says Dennis Salvador, executive director of the Philippine Eagle Foundation. “The Philippine eagle has become a critically endangered species because forest destruction has made it lose its natural habitat.”
According to the research, 90% of the Philippine archipelago was forested during the 1900s. Today, the original old-growth forest remains at 3-5%. This has caused a ripple effect in which water, air and other ecological services have been compromised.
“Small patches of forest may not be able to sustain the needs of the people and wildlife in the long run. What we need to do is to protect the large, contiguous forests and expand the smaller patches by rehabilitating the surrounding areas and developing forest corridors,” Salvador points out.
In the 1970s, the Philippine Eagle was declared an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Several laws were since passed prohibiting the hunting and collection of the Philippine Eagle and protecting its sanctuaries.
It is now on the watch list of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna which regulates and prohibits the commercial import of wild animals and plants threatened by trade.
But there’s a glimmer of hope. Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje reported during the recent Philippine Eagle Week celebration that three new additions to the eagle's population were recorded last December.
The DENR’s Regional Eagle Watch Teams in Regions 9 and 11, Paje said, discovered one at the Mount Apo Natural Park in Davao Oriental and reported the birth of two new eagles in Linay, Zamboanga del Norte and Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur, respectively.
“In the midst of the government efforts to restore our dwindling forests, the presence of these birds boosts our hope of achieving a thriving forest ecosystem and a constant reminder that wildlife can co-exist harmoniously with humans,” Paje was quoted as saying.
By the way, the Philippine Eagle Week -- June 4-10 this year -- is an annual celebration mandated through Presidential Proclamation No. 79 issued in 1999. This year’s theme -- “Your action, your future: Empowering the youth for environment conservation”-- seeks commitment from the young generation to conserve the country’s rich biological resources.
“This plea resonates to the very core values to strengthen the Filipinos’ respect and care for the environment. Such determination would allow future generations to admire the beauty of our national bird, protect our national treasure and to preserve the Filipino heritage,” Director Theresa Mundita Lim of the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau pointed out.
Let’s help save our Philippine eagle.