A little over two months after being returned to the wild, Pamana, a three-year-old Philippine eagle, was found dead, with a fatal pellet wound to the chest.
Named after the Filipino word for “heritage,” Pamana was first heard of in 2012, when she was retrieved from the Gabuna mountain range in Iligan City. A local farmer had found the weakened bird perched on a tree, bearing gunshot wounds to her breast and wings. The farmer took care of her for a short while before deciding to turn her over to the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF).
From 2012 to June 12 this year, the PEF nurtured and rehabilitated Pamana at the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao. Every avenue was taken to save and restore her health. Last June 12, a fully healthy Pamana, equipped with a GPS tracking device and radio transmitter, was released into the wilds of Davao Oriental’s Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary, a habitat dedicated to the eagles.
It was a great moment for the PEF. Tragically, Pamana’s flight turned out to be a short one. On Aug. 10, PEF team members tracking Pamana noted that her monitors signaled she hadn’t moved for six hours—indicating that the bird was in “mortality mode.” PEF workers set out to track Pamana and six days later, they found exactly what they feared: Pamana’s carcass, already decomposing. It was near a creek a kilometer from where she had been released. Ironically for an animal who survived two gunshot wounds, Pamana appeared to have died from a single pellet wound.
What most Filipinos perhaps don’t know is that Philippine eagles (Pithecophaga jefferyi), like Pamana, are a national treasure. Known as the largest of existing eagles in terms of length and wingspan, they are said to be endemic to—meaning, found only in—the Philippines. The Philippine eagle is the country’s national bird—since 1959. Unfortunately, it is an endangered species.
The Pithecophaga jefferyi reportedly has only 400 adult pairs still living in Philippine forests—specifically in
Luzon, Samar, Leyte but mostly in Mindanao—where deforestation has steadily increased the danger of extinction it faces. The PEF and other agencies have been toiling long and hard to save this species. PEF, in particular, has been breeding them since 1992, as well as taking care of those recovered from the wild. According to reports, it has at present 32 such eagles under its care.
As the loss of Pamana has shown, the quest to save the Philippine eagle remains as difficult as ever. And Pamana is not an isolated case. Before her, there were: three-year-old Kagsabua, who was killed with an air gun in Bukidnon in 2008, five months after being released into the wild;
Minalwang who was shot dead in Misamis Oriental in 2013; and Hagpa who survived in the wild for one year before being shot in 2011 (not to mention Kabayan, the first eagle bred in captivity to be released, who was electrocuted when he perched on a power line). What makes these tragic, national losses more heartbreaking and frustrating is that all this happened despite the existence of a law, Republic Act. No. 9147 (the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act), prohibiting the killing of Philippine eagles and penalizing the act with 6-12 years of imprisonment or a fine of P100,000-P1 million for violators.
Authorities have been pushing for the arrest of the eagle killers. Kagsabua’s killer, Bryan Bala-on, was fined P100,000. Animal rights activists are calling for even heavier sanctions. The bounty for the arrest of Pamana’s killer(s) has been raised from P100,000 to P200,000. This may sound like a lot of money, PEF executive director Dennis Salvador said, but it “does not represent what we lost in real and symbolic terms.”
Salvador noted further: “Pamana’s death underscores the need to strengthen our campaign to save not only the eagles but other wildlife in their natural habitats. Clearly, education and awareness aren’t enough. We need a strong law enforcement program in place, especially in protected areas. Tama na ang (enough with) paper protection.”
Indeed, it is urgent that the education campaign be intensified. At the same time, the enforcement of the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act has to be beefed up, with funds allocated for more forest rangers and conservation enforcers, and the courts should speed up cases against poachers and those who think killing these majestic creatures is such a good sport.
Of course, the poverty that grips much of the rural population has to be addressed as part of the big picture. When killing an endangered creature means food on the table for some people, the situation is worse than imagined.
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