IT IS not only mankind who suffered from the negative impacts of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic. Its effects go beyond even to wildlife, including the already endangered Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi).
Some of the hazards in the wild faced by the critically endangered Philippine Eagle are poaching and deforestation -- all activities done by humans.
Jayson Ibañez, research and conservation director at the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), said since the pandemic started in March 2020, they already rescued eight birds from the wild, including the recently rescued eagle from Sarangani.
The eagle, unofficially named Salabanog after he was found near a waterfall of the same name, sustained an injury caused by a marble embedded near its right clavicle.
“Based on our interviews from the locals where we rescued Salabanog, the marble is most likely due to a marble gun, an improvised firearm recently used in the uplands for hunting and shooting,” he said.
Fortunately, Salabanog survived a surgery that removed the marble from his body. He is currently healing inside the PEF Center.
For the other rescued eagles, Ibañez said most of the rescued birds had been captured by trappers, with two trapped because the eagles were feeding on domestic pigs, while one was sold for P8,000 to an outdoor enthusiast who immediately turned over the bird to the foundation.
“Of the eight rescued, one died due to malnutrition, three were released back to the wild, and four remained at the PEF’s rehabilitation center,” he added.
Ibañez emphasized that the hardships and loss of employment and opportunities due to the pandemic forced some people in the forest to resort to hunting wildlife for business or even their own consumption.
“The pandemic is indirectly threatening our wildlife,” he said.
To address these challenges, PEF has been working with local government units, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the direct communities where the raptor can be spotted.
Ibañez said they supported 22 forest guards in Caraga town of Davao Oriental to help protect the national bird.
He also said they continue their education work to communities to increase awareness about the Philippine Eagle conservation efforts.
“We also make sure that all our works are publicized and spread in multiple platforms to reach more people. We are trying to send the message that we are better off protecting the birds than hunting or killing them,” he added.
Ibañez also shared that the pandemic-driven traffic restrictions also halted their research works.
“Our sites where we can do research and fieldwork have been limited to Mindanao these days. We cannot temporarily do it in other parts of the country like Apayao, Aurora, Samar, among others,” he said.
With travel restrictions and economic woes hounding the present time, PEF has struggled on how to keep the foundation going, especially financially.
PEF executive director Dennis Salvador, in a separate interview, said the closure of the center for the most part of 2020 affected their income stream.
“The center is part of the tourism ecosystem in the city, but with the downtrend of tourist arrivals here, our income dropped,” he said.
Salvador explained that a large chunk of the foundation’s income is from the gates or entrance fee of the center located in Calinan District, Davao City, where most of its conservation efforts are performed.
Around 200,000 individuals visit the center before pandemic. Previously, the center charged P100 for children and P150 for adults.
Ibañez, for his part, said they estimated about a third of their revenue was affected or around P2 million per month due to the lockdown.
“We are happy to share that no retrenchment for all our 50 staff happened during the pandemic,” he said.
The center reopened its gates to the public in October last year with minimum health-safety protocols imposed.
“It is not the same as before. The traffic is very low. We only welcome about 20 guests in a month, which is not enough,” Ibañez said.
The center also increased its entrance fee to P300 per person as there are activities added in the package, including the film viewing of “Kalayaan,” a 10-minute film following a juvenile Philippine eagle’s journey in the wild.
Online efforts, campaigns pushed
With the restrictions and challenges, PEF had to realign its campaigns and start crowdfunding efforts amid the health crisis.
PEF manager for development Andrea Baldonado, in a separate interview, said they have capitalized on digital technology and social media to continue their work.
“We are happy because people are very responsive and supportive of our donation campaigns,” she said.
After over three months since they started raising funds for rescued PH Eagle "Balikatan," PEF had received a total of P447,568.85, as of January 8, 2021.
For one Philippine Eagle to survive, Baldonado said it requires some P200,000 annually for its food, shelter, and other necessary procedures for the eagle’s welfare.
At present, PEF houses a total of 34 PH eagles, 16 of them are captive-bred while 18 are rescued from the wild.
“For now, we have one bird with no adopter. Also, our corporate partners and individual adopters plead to give their support in tranches and we also understand because they are also affected by the pandemic,” she said adding they will continue asking for donations from the public.
PEF also introduced virtual tours in the center at P250 per person for an additional income stream.
The foundation said there are only an estimated 400 breeding pairs of Philippine Eagles left in the wild.
To help sustain PEF works, one can donate through its website https://www.philippineeaglefoundation.org/donate.