On the verge of extinction


WITH the serious threat of zoonotic diseases, including the dreaded avian influenza virus or bird flu virus wiping out the Philippine Eagle and other raptors currently housed at the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC) in Barangay Malagos, Davao City, protectors of the country’s national bird are not taking any chances.

Together with the Davao City local government unit, the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) is stepping up its efforts to relocate its breeding pairs of the iconic bird and other birds of prey to a bigger, better location to be called Philippine Eagle Conservation Breeding Sanctuary (PECBS), a 13-hectare forest in Barangay Eden, Davao City.

A memorandum of agreement was signed between the Davao City government led by Mayor Sebastian Duterte and the PEF, led by its Executive Director Dennis Salvador, for the purpose of relocating PEF’s breeding facility and breeding eagles to “safer grounds,” while allowing PEF to retain and continue the operation of the 35-year-old PEC facility, which is also considered a tourist attraction in Davao City.

A huge billboard of the Philippine Eagle stands at the entrance to the Philippine Eagle Center in Barangay Malagos, Davao City. The changing landscapes such as the diminishing forest around it, the increasing pressure of agro-chemical agriculture that makes use of pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers that are fatal to the eagles, plus the risks of zoonotic disease such as the avian influenza virus that can wipe out the entire eagle population at the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC) due to poultry and game fowl farms near the PEC compelled the Philippine Eagle Foundation to step up plans to relocate the breeding Philippine Eagles and other birds of prey to a bigger and better location in Barangay Eden, a 105-hectare forested area set aside for ecotourism purposes, also in Davao City.

Eagle’s ‘paradise’

UNDER the agreement, the PEF can put up its breeding facility in the area where it will be safe from naturally occurring threats like pesticide or fertilizer poisoning caused by agrochemical agriculture or worse, avian influenza virus from contaminated poultry, game fowls or native chickens being raised by communities.

The humidity in the area is also better than the current location of the breeding facility because the humidity is ideal for the natural breeding of raptors. Large cages for the breeding pairs of eagles will be prioritized for construction to start their relocation.

In his message read by Davao City First District Councilor Temujin “Tek” Ocampo, Duterte expressed his support and lauded the PEF for its commitment to protecting and conserving the critically endangered Philippine Eagle.

“The Philippine Eagle Foundation has always been at the forefront of the protection of the Philippine Eagles as well as in the education of the public on its importance. However, it can’t be denied that there are still threats against the existence of our national bird, including deforestation, illegal hunting and, recently, the avian flu outbreaks in Mindanao. Amid these threats, know that the City Government of Davao recognizes and commends the Philippine Eagle Foundation as it remains unfazed and stays committed to its mission,” said Duterte.

According to Duterte, the PECBS is a tangible expression of the PEF’s strong commitment in helping the Philippine Eagle thrive.

“In line with this year’s World Wildlife Day’s theme, ‘Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation,’ let us all continue to work harmoniously in amplifying the advocacy of ensuring the survival of the Philippine Eagle and the biodiversity it represents,” Duterte added.

“Even with our heightened biosecurity
measures, including a partial perimeter
fence that can help control animal and
pollutant intrusions into the facility, the
Philippine Eagle Center remains vulnerable to human population increases and the environmental changes it can bring.”—PEF Director for Research and Conservation Jayson Ibañez

Moving on

DURING a media tour that coincided with the soft launch of the facility, Jayson Ibañez, Director of Research and Conservation at the PEF, said substantial landscape changes have happened since the rescue and breeding facility relocated to Malagos in 1987.

He said the facility was once surrounded by lush woodland. Today, however, remnant forests were mostly cleared.

“Although the western side of the facility is still covered by forests of the Malagos Watershed, the rest of its neighboring lands are private properties used either as farms or for settlements. This loss of protective woodland buffers has exposed our captive eagle population to anthropogenic threats,” said Ibañez.

“We are very fortunate and very grateful to the local government of Davao City for allowing us to use this portion of the Eden Nature Park,” he added.

A 105-hectare forested land, the zonal classification of the land is ecotourism, unlike in Barangay Malagos, which is classified as agricultural, which means private landowners cannot be prevented from doing agriculture and even poultry that pose serious threats to the eagles housed at the Philippine Eagle Center.

Zoonotic diseases from the surrounding domestic fauna in the area, Ibañez pointed out, are seriously threatening the entire captive-breeding program of the PEF in Barangay Malagos.

Threat from other fowls

RECENT threat mapping conducted by the PEF revealed there are poultry and game farms around the PEC. “These data exclude small, backyard farms of chicken and fighting cocks, and feral native chickens raised close to the center,” he said.

According to Ibañez, the recent death of Philippine Eagle “Pag-asa” due to trichomoniasis, a bird disease caused by a protozoan that is common in species of peri-urban doves or pigeons, is alarming enough to consider the serious threat of zoonotic diseases hitting PEC, sooner, if not later.

“These are all ‘clear and present’ threats that have the potential to wipe out the entire breeding stock if we don’t do anything to spare our Philippine Eagles from such risks. Even with our heightened biosecurity measures, including a partial perimeter fence that can help control animal and pollutant intrusions into the facility, the Philippine Eagle Center remains vulnerable to human population increases and the environmental changes it can bring,” he said.

Image credits: Edwin Verin | Dreamstime.com