The majestic Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), to which the nation is paying special attention these days, is one of the rarest birds in the world. It’s said that the American pioneer aviator Charles Lindbergh was so enraptured by it that he dubbed it “the world’s noblest flier.”
But this wonder of creation, which was named the Philippines’ national bird in 1995, replacing the maya, has long been on the “critically endangered” list. Government efforts at breeding the bird in captivity have produced “Kabayan” and also “Pag-asa,” which has since fathered an eaglet. But the process is long and tedious, the complete breeding cycle lasting two years.
There have been too many unfortunate incidents involving the endangered bird. In January, a 15-year-old eagle died in a conservation group’s breeding center in Mindanao when a falling tree branch hit its cage. Last December, hunters wielding air guns wounded an eagle, which eventually died. Another eagle, released into the wild after years of rehabilitation, died from gunshot wounds; it was reportedly shot after it attacked a pet dog. And in 2012, a Bukidnon farmer was found to have killed and cooked another eagle that had also been rehabilitated and released into the wild.
The national bird is protected by Republic Act No. 9147. It’s a crime to kill or harm one.
But there’s a bit of good news, as reported by authorities. A family of three eagles has been sighted on Mount Mingan in Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija—a thrilling development considering that most sightings tend to be of the solo variety. Also thrilling is the awareness that local folk have shown in the case of the abandoned eaglet they found in Magpet, North Cotabato, last month. They tended to the bird, which was still unable to fly, and then turned it over to the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF). “The eagle is OK,” pronounced municipal environment officer Edward Lignas. “It is not wounded or stressed.” This is the second eagle that the Magpet folk have turned over to authorities. They rescued another one last year, but it succumbed to disease.
Along with other sightings in different parts of the country, quite noteworthy is the hatching in February of the Philippine eagle “Atbalin” in the Zamboanga del Norte forest (the fourth such hatching). Credit goes to the efforts of the PEF, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Haribon Foundation. The PEF, founded in 1987, is at the very forefront of the battle to save the bird. The Haribon Foundation—for “haring ibon” or king of birds—has long made the preservation of the species its focal point, apart from its other environmental concerns.
All this is why the ongoing observance of the 16th Philippine Eagle Week (June 4-10) should be marked by more than the congratulatory mood resulting from new sightings in the south and in Nueva Ecija. More than ever, a vigorous education campaign should be mounted and sustained to protect the national bird—and, in the course of it, other endangered species—from those who will hunt it for sport or for food. Also imperative is the need to protect the eagle’s natural habitats, which include the forests of the northern Sierra Madre and Mount Apo, among others.
According to some estimates, there may be only 250 adult Philippine eagles left—a precarious number that requires robust conservation efforts by both the public and private sectors. Environment Secretary Ramon Paje has sounded an urgent call for everyone to get involved in saving and protecting one of our national treasures. “Nurturing this unique heritage found only in this part of the world is a gift of the Filipino people to the global community,” Paje said. “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 coexist harmoniously with humans.”
In working to protect the Philippine eagle, one can draw inspiration from singer Joey Ayala’s “Agila (Haring Ibon),” which declares a commitment to help ensure that the royal creature’s kingdom will again flourish: “Nais kong tumulong, nang kaharian mo’y muling mabuhay (I want to help, so that your kingdom will be revived).”
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