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What we owe Pamana

It’s not bad at all for a profile picture. Most stories about the finding of the remains of Pamana, the rare Philippine eagle shot down some days ago in her forest refuge, shows a sharp-beaked visage with fierce eyes.

But most astounding for me were the blue feathers in her “face,” giving the eagle an otherworldly, imperious appearance. Truly, nature or God or whoever you believe is responsible for creating the world’s creatures, is quite an art director. Why, for instance, give the emperor penguin touches of yellow around its beak and feathers? Or “design” the orca or killer whale with its dramatic black-and-white coloring?

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The Philippine (formerly known as “monkey-eating”) eagle is another marvel of design. Aside from its blue visage, and its spotted feathers, it owes its majesty to the magnificent span of its wings as it soars above the forests of Mindanao.

Gazing at the photos of Pamana, one can’t help but mourn the loss of such a beautiful, regal creature which is, for good measure, rare and in danger of disappearing altogether from its native habitat. The Philippine eagle is considered “critically endangered.” In fact there was great rejoicing just last June 12 when caretakers with the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) released Pamana (Heritage) back into her forest habitat after she was considered well enough to forage in the wild after she recovered from a bullet wound in her wing. Pamana’s release at the time was considered a milestone in the struggle to restore the population of these endangered birds, who are facing extinction because of the rapid loss of their habitat in the forests of Davao.

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And then, just last week, the decaying carcass of Pamana was discovered with a bullet hole in the right breast. She was found in the Mt. Hamiguitan Range, a Unesco World Heritage Site in Davao Oriental, just a short distance from where she had been released.

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The short, challenging existence of Pamana, a female eagle, understandably frustrated conservationists and wildlife lovers. After all, they believed they had adequately protected her with all the technology they could muster, fitting her before her release with a tracker so they could monitor her location. But they knew something was seriously wrong when the monitor went into “mortality mode,” signaling that Pamana was dead.

Preliminary findings show that the eagle was shot by a pellet gun, with metal fragments found in her body.

What were hunters doing in a protected forest area? Dennis Salvador, executive director of PEF, which manages a shelter for young and wounded eagles in Davao and leads the efforts to restore the wild population of Philippine eagles, said they chose to release “Pamana” in the Mt. Hamiguitan Range not only because it’s a protected area, but also because of “strong local commitment to protect the area.”

But the partially decomposing carcass of Pamana, said authorities, was found on the edges of the protected area, a buffer zone that is accessible to the public. Indeed, a report says, the foundation had been planning to release even more Philippine eagles in the area but now they have decided to wait until the threats to the eagles have disappeared.

The threats are not just limited to the presence of hunters, poachers or communities in or near the protected areas. They also include the gradual shrinking and disappearance of proper habitats, which means the protected areas need to be large enough to provide the needs of the eagles and other wild creatures for shelter, food and space.

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This may be what prompted Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago to call for a probe into the killing of Pamana. Such a call may be expected as a “knee-jerk” reaction from a politician riding on a news item. But Santiago is right when she says that “there is a disconnect” between the killing of Pamana and the site where this killing took place, a mountain range that is a protected site.

“If we cannot protect wildlife in what we dare call protected areas, what kind of protection are we providing?” she said in a statement. A news report said that Santiago, who is a sponsor of the treaty on the Asean Center for Biodiversity, will file a resolution tomorrow to “call for an inquiry in aid of legislation” on Pamana’s death and risks to all other creatures in protected areas. The government has already offered a P200,000 reward to anyone with information on the eagle’s killer.

Indeed, I had wondered, when news about Pamana first leaked, why authorities seemed to tolerate the use of guns, even air guns, in or near a protected area. If the communities are sincere and determined to protect the creatures in their habitats, then they must be vigilant against threats, including gun owners and wielders.

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Around this time, there was also a lot of anger and indignation expressed when it was revealed that a “beloved” lion in a wildlife refuge in Africa had been shot and killed by an American dentist who apparently hunts big predators for sport.

Already, protesters have gathered in front of the dentist’s office to lay memorials of stuffed lions in behalf of the dead predator while the dentist himself has fled for fear of the public backlash.

Public reaction to Pamana’s shooting seems rather muted in comparison, but there is a palpable sadness in reaction to the news. I do hope Senator Santiago’s probe produces concrete results, not just in identifying the heartless shooter and possible cohorts, but also in crafting policies to make protected areas easier to monitor and maintain, including setting strict limits on human incursions into endangered habitats.

That is the least we owe this magnificent creature.

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TAGS: Mt. Hamiguitan Range, Pamana, Philippine Eagle, Philippine Eagle Foundation
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