Minalwang: 4th killed among 6 Philippine Eagles released into the wild

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 20 October) – Minalwang, a male juvenile Philippine Eagle rescued from its captor in Gingoog City in October 2011, rehabilitated at the Philippine Eagle Center here for nearly two years and released into Mt. Balatukan Range Natural Park in Gingoog City on August 15 this year, is dead, the fourth eagle killed among six released into the wild since 1999.

Minalwang was found dead on October 11 not from gunshot wounds as announced in Manila, but from infection “associated with trauma due to capture.”

Dennis Salvador, executive director of the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) told MindaNews on Sunday morning that Minalwang’s death is “attributed to infection as a result of stress from recent capture by locals who wanted money for the bird.”

Salvador said Minalwang, which had a two-stage (radio and satellite) transmitter attached to it to enable biologists to monitor and track its whereabouts, was captured by locals in Mt. Lumot also in Gingoog after it allegedly attacked their dog on October 7.

He said Minalwang was reported to have been thrust into a sack and brought on foot to Claveria town in Misamis Oriental which is several kilometers away and where the PEF’s field biologist found the eagle on October 8.

The Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), a critically endangered species described by the late aviator Charles Lindbergh as the “air’s noblest flier,” is the country’s national bird.

With the help of the barangay captain, no money was paid for the retrieval of the bird, said Salvador.

Minalwang before it flew out of the cage on August 15, 2013. The bird was found dead on October 11. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Eagle Foundation
Minalwang before it flew out of the cage on August 15, 2013. The bird was found dead on October 11. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Eagle Foundation

He explained that the biologist’s initial assessment was that the eagle had lost weight since its release in mid-August. Before Minalwang was released in Gingoog, it was transferred to a temporary cage at the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City three weeks earlier to acclimatize to a forest environment. “This method of release, known as hacking, was designed to slowly orient the eagle to its surroundings before it is set free into the wild,” a press statement from PEF on Minalwang’s release said.

Salvador said the eagle was returned back to the forest on October 9 and was found dead two days later.

When Minalwang arrived at the Eagle Center here on October 19, 2011, it was malnourished and bruised.

In his speech during Minalwang’s release in Gingoog City on August 15,  Salvador said: “We have accomplished the easy part. The difficult part is to keep the eagle alive in the wild… the biggest challenge is to obtain the protection of the local community. We need to understand that the Philippine Eagle symbolizes the health of the wildlife in the eco-system. Protection of these eagles secures the health of the communities downstream.”

Minalwang is the fourth killed among six eagles released into the wild and tracked down through radio telemetry since 1999.

Freed but back in captivity

Sinaka, the first rescued and rehabilitated eagle released into the wild in Mt. Sinaka, Arakan, North Cotabato on July 1, 1999,  is still alive.

But Sinaka is alive only because it was returned to the Eagle  Center.

Salvador said Sinaka is “back at the Center as it kept on getting captured by locals.”

Sinaka was brought to the Eagle Center on June 15, 1999 for treatment of “traumatic head injuries.”  It was in a “very bad condition with its legs tied with a dog chain when found by the PEF field research team.” Further examination showed a ”more pervasive problem” as X-rays showed the bird’s body was ”peppered with lead shots.” Ten lead pellets were found in the bird’s body.

Sinaka’s release into the wild on July 1, 1999 was the first time PEF used radio telemetry. A tiny two-staged backpack transmitter was attached to Sinaka’s back to allow the monitoring of its movements through a transceiver held by field researchers.

Salvador said the findings from the study of Sinaka’s movements would include how the eagles use their habitat, how wide it is, and to ”give us better understanding of whether the bird strays from the forest territory or remains within the forest.”

Freed, lived for 261 days

Five years later, on Earth Day, April 22, 2004, Kabayan, an eagle  conceived and hatched in captivity, was released into the forests of Mt. Apo, at the Philippine National Oil Company’s Geothermal Field in Barangay Ilomavis, Kidapawan City.

Dubbed as Asia’s first captive-bred bird released into the wild, Kabayan died from electrocution on January 8, 2005 when it perched on a high-voltage cable.

Named after the donor, then Vice President Noli “Kabayan” de Castro, Kabayan survived in the forest for 261 days, although ventured only near the release site. It was found dead about a kilometer from where it was freed.

On the day of Kabayan’s release on April 22, 2004,  Salvador gave the eagle  a “50-50 chance at survival in the wild.”

Freed, slaughtered

Kagsabua, another eagle rehabilitated at the Eagle Center since 2006 and returned to the forests in March 2008 was killed by a local hunter near the village in Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park in Bukidnon four months later, in July 2008.

Kagsabua’s transmitter was found buried near a creek while bird’s feet believed to be Kagsabua’s were also recovered.

Bryan Balaon, a Higaonon from La Fortuna, Impasug-ong in Bukidnon, was later found guilty of killing Kasagbua and fined P100,000 by the court.

Balaon admitted to having shot Kagsabua with an air gun and brought the dead bird home where he cooked and ate it with friends. He also admitted burying the transmitter.

Under  RA 9147, the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, killing a critically endangered species such as Philippine Eagles is penalized by “imprisonment of a minimum of six years and one day to 12 years and/or a fine of P100,000 to a million pesos, if inflicted or undertaken against species listed as critical.”

Freed simultaneously

On October 29, 2009, the PEF released two eagles – the then three-year old captive-bred male eagle Hineleban and Kalabugao, a rescued and rehabilitated eagle, inside the protected Mt. Kitanglad Mountain Range.

Kalabugao was  brought to the Eagle Center here in 2008 after it was rescued in Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, its right leg injured by a 22.caliber pellet.

Hinelaban was reported missing a month after its release. Tatit Quiblat, then PEF Information officer said an intensive search led to the recovery of the carcass of a male Philippine Eagle in Barangay Lupiagan in Bukidnon on January 15, 2010. It was believed to be Hinelaban’s.

Lone survivor

But it’s not all bad news for the freed eagles.

Kalabugao is the lone eagle that has survived the wild for almost four years now. By October 29, 2013, Kalabugao would have been in the forest for four years.

Salvador said Kalabugao has been tracked down somewhere in Misamis Oriental.

In a 2004 interview after Kabayan’s release, Salvador told MindaNews: “Eagles in the wild have to contend with a whole set of threats – both natural and human-induced.  They have to hunt for themselves, they have to fight with other eagles for territory, they cross open landscapes and in the process get shot at or captured, etc.  Eagles in captivity get food daily and medical attention when necessary.  However, eagles belong to the forest and that is where they should be.  Captive breeding was undertaken with the primary goal of restoring eagle populations in the wild.  The birds at the Center serve to further conservation goals by educating our people.  It makes it easier for people to get involved and participate if they are able to visualize what it is they are trying to support.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

THE FLIGHT OF MINALWANG
Time lapse of Minalwang’s release, 15 Augsut 2013. By TOTO LOZANO / MindaNews

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Agila. Bituin Escalante version

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