A pandemic creates threats against the eagle PH

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FLY FOR FREE In this photo, spectators take pictures as the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) named “Rajah Cabungso-an” takes off on November 17, more than seven months after his rehabilitation, to return to the forest where he was rescued. was rescued in Lingig town, Surigao del Sur province. —PHOTOS BY ERWIN M. MASCARIÑAS

LINGIG, Surigao del Sur, Philippines – As “Rajah Cabungso-an,” a 5-year-old Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), came out of his cage around 11 a.m. on November 17, the few people who gathered on a set attending a momentous event eagerly awaited what would happen next.

Fixing its gaze on the forest a few miles away, the Philippine eagle then leaped forward and spread its wings. In an instant, the raptor was already hovering above, reunited with its natural habitat.

But the journey back to the wild took around eight months and countless sacrifices on the part of those concerned about the fate of the endangered national bird.

The eagle was named after the village of this city where it was rescued last March. He was caught in a trap intended for monitor lizards, locally called “bayawak”, also an endangered species.

Jerry Cotic, a city councilor in the village of Rajah Cabungso-an, encountered the bird in Sitio San Isidro as he, his son and villager Richard Mahomoc had gone out to collect rattan. Believing it to be a special bird due to its size, Cotic asked the wildlife hunters to hand over the captured bird to him so that he could turn it over to authorities.

“I didn’t know it was a Philippine eagle. I just felt something was wrong with the way the unusually huge bird was being treated, ”Cotic told the vernacular Inquirer.

HEALTH CHECK Veterinarian Dr Bayani Vandenbroeck performs a final physical examination of the Philippine eagle “Rajah Cabungso-an” before the bird of prey is released into its natural habitat. Vandenbroeck, pictured below, cradles the rehabilitated eagle, which took about a six-hour journey from Davao City to Lingig, Surigao del Sur.

Ransom

But the hunters refused, offering it instead for 5,000p or it would end with a meal, Cotic recalled.

Not wanting to pass up the opportunity to save the bird, Cotic and Mahomoc promised to come back with the money and begged to spare the animal’s life for a little longer.

While Cotic “kept” the eagle, his son and Mahomoc returned to the village to raise funds to buy back the bird. When they had pooled enough, Cotic’s son, on a motorbike, returned to Sitio San Isidro to bring the eagle back to safety.

Mahomoc then volunteered to take him to Bislig City where his wife, Reynalyn Gay-od, works and maintains a boarding house. He instructed him to contact Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) staff in advance as he went there with the eagle.

Placing the bird in a bag with its head out in a small opening, Mahomoc rode his motorcycle for over an hour to Bislig. “It was a tough race as I hugged the bird in his arms as he tried to fight and even hurt me and the driver with his beak,” he said.

In Gay-od’s boarding house, they made a makeshift cage from a dismantled table while waiting for the DENR to take over the raptor.

“When I saw the bird, I immediately fell in love with it. It was beautiful, ”Gay-od said.

She remembered that she pitied the bird like where it sometimes moaned. She has decided that the eagle will stay in her room for the night.

RESCUER Richard Mahomoc (right), one of the people who saved “Rajah Cabungso-an” from wildlife hunters, talks with Dr Jayson Ibañez, director of research and conservation at the Philippine Eagle Foundation , ways to protect the critically endangered national bird.

Alarm

Staff from the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), the group that operates the Philippine Eagle Center in the Malagos district of Davao, arrived the next day (March 23) to take custody of the bird.

When he was rescued, the eagle weighed about 4 kilograms. What happened to Rajah Cabungso-an alarmed PEF environmentalists.

PEF’s director of research and conservation, Dr Jayson Ibañez, described the bird’s story as both painful and alarming.

Ibañez said the economic hardships caused by the pandemic had caused people in communities near the forests to depend on hunting and gathering wildlife for survival.

“We cannot fault them for trying to survive,” he said, noting that measures should be taken to protect endangered wildlife while meeting people’s livelihood needs.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, PEF had registered and cared for 10 rescued eagles in Mindanao. Of these, seven suffered “human persecution” (four were trapped, one shot by an improvised shotgun and two driven out) and three were weakened and captured by people and handed over to the authorities.

The last rescue took place in January this year in the town of Kiamba, in the province of Sarangani. The raptor, injured by a “marble ball”, was trapped among the vines.

By human persecution, environmentalists mean activities that threaten the species, such as shooting and hunting, as well as deforestation.

The majority of those trapped or shot were juveniles whose sense of risk and danger is not well developed.

Ibañez said it was the highest number of Philippine eagles rescued in the country’s history.

“This should be seen as a conservation emergency,” he added.

Of the 10 birds, Rajah Cabungso-an was the fifth to be released into the wild. But some rescued eagles will miss nature forever like “Balikatan” which was also ransomed in the town of Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte province, for 8,000 P. Ryan Orquina bought it from wildlife dealers to free him from the cage.

He cared for the bird for three weeks until it was picked up by PEF and brought to its conservation facility on August 30 of last year. It was later discovered that Balikatan’s left eye was already blind and that a cataract was forming in his right eye, believed to be due to the long captivity.

Before Rajah Cabungso-an was released, he was fitted with a radio transmitter so that conservationists could track his movements and also profile his habitat to aid conservation efforts.

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