DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/02 September) – Philippine Eagle Pamana would have survived if she was released deep in the forest of the 31,000-hectare Mt. Hamiguitan Range in Davao Oriental, an environment official said Wednesday.
In a press briefing at the Ritz Hotel Garden Oases, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) XI director Joselin Marcus Fragada said Pamana was released June 12 in an agricultural area of Sitio Tumalite, Barangay La Union in San Isidro town and not within the 6,834-hectare Mt. Hamiguitan Wildlife Sanctuary.
Fragada said that when they released two eagles in the past they did it in mountains that were far enough from the communities to ensure that the critically endangered birds were not harmed.
Last August 16, the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) found the female eagle dead, less than a kilometer away from her release site. The monitoring team had noticed the eagle had not moved for six hours on August 10 based on the global positioning system device attached to it.
Pamana was rescued by a PEF team in 2012 at Gabunan Range in Iligan City with two gunshot wounds, one on her left wing and another on her left breast. Before her release back to the wild, she underwent rehabilitation in PEF’s center in Davao since April 2012.
Fragada said it’s possible that the intention of the shooter wasn’t to kill Pamana for sport. He said the bird could have been shot while perched on a tree or on the ground.
He said Pamana could have wound up in human settlements (and possibly preyed on farm animals) if she was not physically fit to actually fly to the heart of the forest: the wildlife sanctuary.
“We need to find that reason that’s why the investigation is taking long,” he said. “The community should be given a chance to explain the demise of the bird and be made to further understand the situation rather than pointing fingers.”
Fragada and Ruel Colong, protected area superintendent of the wildlife sanctuary, also said that Pamana would have higher chances of survival if she was released inside the protected area.
Colong said that if Pamana had good flying ability, she would have flown to higher elevation instead of staying within the radius of the release site.
He said the artificial environment in which Pamana underwent rehabilitation was insufficient to equip her with hunting and other survival skills. He observed that during her release, the eagle was not able to ascend; instead the bird glided down and hit a temporary structure.
A medical assessment should have been done on the bird when that happened, he said.
Fragada concurred with Colong that the hunting capability of Pamana might have changed while she was being sheltered at the PEF for three years and that she might have gone to the communities to look for food.
Fragada claimed Mt. Hamiguitan Range was free of hunters and poachers.
Fragada said he doesn’t want to find fault over Pamana’s death, but cited there could be lapses in monitoring.
He said a multi-agency group comprised of DENR, PEF, the military and the local government unit could have done it better.
“We’d like to respect their (PEF) so-called expertise. We don’t want to overstep (on their work). Hindi na natin maibabalik ang buhay ni Pamana (We cannot bring Pamana back to life),” he said.
But the eagle’s death will help authorities set clearer guidelines on handling the release of endangered species and monitoring them, according to Fragada.”We want to take steps in the future in the future to prevent this from happening again.”
He added they have yet to arrive at conclusive findings what might have caused the killing of Pamana.
Colong added they are looking at four factors leading to the bird’s death – the release site, preparations including information drive, Pamana’s physical condition, effective conservation plan, and collaboration system between concerned parties
“Was Pamana already prepared to be released in the wild? When she was released, she’d be living and hunting on her own,” he noted.
Boost the number
The release of Pamana could have boosted the population of eagles in the wild where the agency recorded a pair of eagle — Cabu and Aya — and their offspring in Barangay Cabuaya, Mati City, which is still within the 31,000-hectare Mt. Hamiguitan Range.
PEF estimated 400 adult pairs in the wild, considered as “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
PEF executive director Dennis Salvador said the foundation has 33 more birds under its care. No other eagles were due for release.
Killing of any critically endangered species is prohibited under Republic Act No. 9147, also known as Wildlife Act of 2001, which provides “for the conservation and protection of wildlife resources and their habitats.”
Fragada encouraged the participation of communities and other stakeholders to prevent similar incidents in the future.
He said that while the suspects have remained unidentified, it would be unfair to prejudge the nearby communities (where Pamana was released).
He said the death of Pamana should not be treated like a murder case, but instead involve the communities who can possible help shed light on the matter.
Colong explained the information drive might not have been enough to educate the nearby communities. The release site, he said, was near settlements and farmlands.
In phone interview, Salvador maintained they conducted sufficient information drive in communities within six kilometers from the release site prior to the release of the bird.
PEF said the information drive covered close to 500 adult participants, including community leaders. Almost 200 of these pledged to participate in conservation efforts. It continued the activity after the release of Pamana, reaching out 141 people from other barangays and 3,351 students from 11 schools.
Salvador said that contrary to DENR’s statement, the release site is a dipterocarp forest, an ideal habitat for the bird.
He pointed out that just because the eagle was disoriented (during the day of the release) did not mean that she was not physically fit. Pamana, he said, was probably just disturbed by the presence of many people around her on that day.
Pamana was released to the wild last June 12. Last August 10, she was reported to have been shot by unknown perpetrators; six days after, the bird’s body was found within a kilometer radius from where she was released in San Isidro.
“The team noted that radio signals they were receiving at their observation post were in ‘mortality’ mode,” a PEF statement read. This meant either the radio unit came off or the bird died, it said.
The team then launched a search to determine the location of the eagle. They recovered her carcass in an advanced stage of decomposition on August 16, near a creek below the thick forest.
“The bird was presented wrapped in a black plastic bag with only some portions of her skin, tendons and ligaments on her legs and feet, few blood vessels, feathers, bones and talons remained,” Dr. Ana Maria L. Lascano, attending veterinarian of the PEF, said in her necropsy report.
She said a 5-mm gunshot wound was also noticed that caused possible trauma to Pamana, adding a small fragment of a gun pellet was removed.
The bird had a bullet hole in her right breast and her left shoulder blade was also shattered.
A P600,000 bounty had been put up for the identity of Pamana’s killer.
This is not the first time a Philippine eagle was shot dead. On August 14, 2004, a decomposing body of a female Philippine eagle was found in Mt. Apo in Davao City. (Antonio L. Colina IV and Jesse Pizarro Boga/MindaNews)