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Views to Ponder: Saving endangered Philippine eagle

by Admin-Phmp

By Henrylito D. Tacio

Ten days before Christmas in 2018, Dodoy Rodriguez left his home in barangay Lanao Kuran at 9:00 in the morning to deliver tomatoes to Arakan town. He was passing through barangay Tumanding when he noticed from a distance a “white sack” lying on the grasses along the road.

When he got closer, he became curious. He stopped his motorcycle and checked. He was totally surprised when he saw a huge bird, lying on its back and with its cotton white under parts exposed.

Dodoy touched the bird hoping it was still alive, but he was wrong. “Ants already swarmed on the carcass but its body was still warm” he recalled, adding that the bird was just a meter away from a concrete electric post. He also noticed burns on the eaglet’s left wing and right foot. 

He realized it wasn’t an ordinary bird. Based on its size, he knew it was a Philippine eagle. So, he brought the corpse to the house of a forest guard who, in turn, reported the incident to the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF).

Ana Lascano, the PEF veterinarian consultant, examined the corpse and found the bird had burn marks on the left wing and on the right foot of the bird. The left wing also sustained a compound fracture while a hole about one centimeter in diameter was found on the bird’s footpad. Inspecting the eagle’s organs, she said it was a young male eagle.

She believed the bird was “accidentally electrocuted” as she noticed the bird’s heart and surrounding vessels had ruptured. This is in addition to the fact that the bird was found close to a power pole.

“The bird was lying lifeless…on the roadside, about a meter distant from a concrete electric post owned and operated by the Cotabato Electric Cooperative,” the necropsy report stated.

Electrical Engineer Floro Baguec, Jr. of the Apayao Province Engineering Office, who reviewed a series of photographs taken at the place of incident, explained that the power pole where the bird landed held a bare, non-insulated “secondary line” with 220 volts of electrical power.

The bird, he surmised, “apparently came in contact with the two naked wires simultaneously, and that the full voltage passing through its body caused its death.”

The incident wasn’t the first. A captive-bred bird named “Kabayan” that was released at Mount Apo, the country’s highest peak, was also electrocuted accidentally in 2004.

“Globally, developed and highly industrialized countries like Japan, US and Europe have had grave issues with large eagles dying of electric shock for several decades now, and they have developed safe wire insulation methods to avoid its impacts,” said Dr. Jayson C. Ibañez, director of PEF’s research and conservation program.

“With the push for more electrification and urbanization projects close to formerly remote forests and eagle habitats, similar measures to prevent eagle and wildlife deaths from non-insulated powerlines must be implemented.”

What was thought to be just a dream became a reality. On March 24, 2023, the first 1.5-kilometer of a 4.5-kilometer retrofitted powerline system was finally launched at sitio Bagtok in barangay Tumanding.

During the inauguration, Dr. Toru Yamazaki flew all the way from Japan. He represented the Asian Raptor Research and Conservation Network (ARRCN) and is the manager of the Suntory Fund for Bird Conservation.

“When I learned that the Philippine Eagle Foundation needed help with finding funds to protect the eagles of Mount Sinaka, I did not hesitate to find the right donor in Japan,” said Dr. Yamazaki during his special message.

Mount Sinaka is located in Arakan, North Cotabato, a pair of the “critically endangered” Philippine eagle is being protected and their nesting territory conserved.  With only less than 2,000 hectares of forest cover, Mount Sinaka is the smallest Philippine eagle nesting habitat in the world.

The Philippine eagle (known in the science world as Pithecophaga jefferyi”) has been included by Current Biology in its list of 100 most endangered birds in the world. “We… found that if we prioritize threatened birds by their distinctness, we actually preserve very close to the maximum possible amount of evolution,” said Arne Mooers, a member of the team and a biologist from Simon Fraser University in Canada.

The Philippine eagle was ranked No. 8 in the list. “This is truly a dubious distinction for our national bird,” commented Dennis Joseph Ilustre Salvador, the PEF executive director.

On why the Philippine eagle is nearing extinction, Scientific American surmised: “One of the big hurdles in conserving the Philippine eagle is that each breeding pair requires a range up to 40 square kilometers to adequately feed and rear their offspring, which makes it particularly vulnerable to deforestation.”

Salvador seemed to agree. “The Philippine eagle has become a critically endangered species because the loss of the forest has made it lose its natural habitat,” he stressed, adding that a pair of Philippine eagles needs at least 7,000 to 13,000 hectares of forest as a nesting territory.

“Without the forest, the species cannot survive over the long term,” Salvador said. “Without the forest, not only the Philippine eagle will go extinct, but so will the dreams and aspirations of millions of marginal income families who rely on the forest to survive.”

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