By Shaira Panela
MANILA – Just two months after being released in to the wild after being treated for minor bruises and gunshot wounds, a Philippine eagle named Pamana (meaning heritage or legacy), was discovered lifeless near a creek inside a forest.
Around lunch time of Monday, August 10, 2015, the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) received radio signals indicating that the eagle they freed has probably not moved for at least six hours — either the radio unit attached to the bird came off, or the eagle died.
Five days after that, the three-year-old Philippine eagle (scientific name: Pithecophaga jefferyi) was found rotting near a creak inside Mt. Hamiguitan Range in Davao Oriental where the bird was released over two months ago.
The eagle, one of only 400 breeding pairs left in the wild, was rescued in 2012. It has been in the Malagos Eagle Center of PEF for about three years before it was released into the wild on June 12, 2015.
Pamana was first found at Mt. Gabunan Range, Iligan City (an independent city within Lanao del Norte). A local found the bird perched on a tree near a creek, with gunshot wound on his left breast. After several days, it was transferred to the City Environment and Natural Resources Office of Iligan. But Northern Mindanao regional eagle watch team told PEF that Pamana needed to be rescued.
PEF staff treated Pamana’s wounds, as another one was found under the skin of his left wing. The bird was also given oral medication, vitamins and supplements in addition to the ration.
For two years, PEF took diligent care of the bird and trained it for release to the wild.
Up to this day, PEF officers and staff remain puzzled about the motives of the person who shot Pamana, and any other Philippine eagle, for that matter.
“Hindi namin matumbok ang motives ng hunters to do this (shooting the bird). Certainly, hindi siya pwedeng kainin kasi hindi palatable. It is also difficult to keep as a trophy (We can’t pinpoint the motives of the hunters to do this [shooting the bird]. Certainly, the bird is not palatable. It is also difficult to keep as a trophy.),” Dennis Salvador, PEF Executive Director, said in a phone interview.
“It’s as if it’s just really lack of respect for life,” he added.
Environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) said the killing of the critically-endangered bird “exposes the low prioritization of the government in seriously protecting the country’s various endangered species.”
Pamana’s death demonstrates “how grossly incapable our government’s biodiversity conservation program is, and how lacking the environmental education is among local communities that are should be the state’s primary partner in protecting our endangered Philippine Eagles and addressing wildlife poaching in Mt. Hamiguitan,” Kalikasan PNE national coordinator Clemente Bautista said in a statement.
Since the 1970’s PEF has been receiving reports of Philippine eagle suffering from gunshot wounds, and others caught in traps for wild boar and deer. Malagos Eagle Center has been admitting an eagle every year over the past few years.
The Center has been taking care of 33 eagles. Salvador said they do not plan to release any of them in the near future.
The Philippine Eagle is classified as critically endangered under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. There are about 400 Philippine eagles in the wild. Birdlife International, a non-profit organization for conservation of birds said that among the known threats to this species are clearing of tropical forests for commercial development and agriculture, mining and hunting activities, and the accumulation of pesticides.
In Davao, the hunt for Pamana’s perpetrator continues.
“Our staff deployed in the area (Mt. Hamiguitan) have been helping to coordinate with police to provide more information that could help locate the perpetrators,” Salvador said.
He also said that they have asked their local guides to look around for leads as to who possibly did the crime.
“We are also pressing the police and the Office of the Mayor to fast track the investigation,” Salvador said.
Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act penalizes persons found guilty of killing critically endangered species like the Philippine eagle. A person found guilty against this act will face jail sentence of up to 12 years, and fines of up to P1 million.
Considered as one of the world’s largest eagles, the Philippine eagle can weigh to about 6.5 kg and could grow up to 3 feet in length, with wingspan of about 6.5-7 feet. Both male and female Philippine eagle have creamy white belly and underwing, while their upper portions are rich chocolate-brown, with paler edge. This particular species of eagle looks very imposing and distinctive with the long feathers on its head and nape forming a shaggy crest of creamy-buff with black streaks.
This species is endemic to Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao.
story by Shaira Panela
photo credit: Philippine Eagle Foundation