DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 08 January) –Pag-asa (Hope), the first Philippine Eagle successfully bred through cooperative artificial insemination and hatched on January 15, 1992 at the Philippine Eagle Center here, passed away at 8:03 p.m. on January 6, nine days before his 29th hatchday.
The Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) said Pag-asa “succumbed to infections associated with Trichomoniasis and Aspergillosis” which are fatal for raptors. The eagle’s health continued to deteriorate despite treatment over a week ago.
Pag-asa’s hatching was a milestone in the conservation of the endangered Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) as it was the first time after over a decade of experimentation, that the PEF succeeded in captive breeding.
It “heralded hope for the critically endangered species and the entire conservation mission,” the PEF said.
Pag-asa, it added, “will forever remain as our conservation icon and a symbol of hope for his species and the Filipino people.”
Dennis Salvador, PEF Executive Director, earlier told MindaNews that captive breeding was undertaken with the primary goal of restoring eagle populations in the wild.
He said the birds at the Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos, Calinan, especially Pag-asa, “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.”
Pag-asa was bred and hatched in captivity, lived and died in captivity.
“We might do taxidermy after disinfection. It would be good to preserve him for education and inspiration,” Jayson Ibañez, PEF Director of Research and Conservation, told MindaNews on Friday.
Pag-asa’s mother, Diola has been preserved and can be viewed inside the audio visual room at the Center.
National Bird, National Treasure
The City Government of Davao through Executive Order 13 issued by Mayor Rodrigo Duterte on January 16, 1992 declared January 15 of every year as Philippine Eagle Day to commemorate Pag-asa’s birthday.
On July 4, 1995, then President Fidel Ramos issued Proclamation 615 declaring the Philippine Eagle as the “National Bird of the Philippines,” describing it as “the best biological indicator of the quality of our forest ecosystems,” the “flagship species in the conservation of Philippine wildlife,” “national treasure,” “source of national pride, “ and whose “uniqueness, strength, power, and love for freedom, exemplifies the Filipino people.”
Ramos issued the Proclamation to ensure the proper conservation, protection, preservation, and management of the Philippine Eagle
The late aviator, Charles Lindbergh described the Philippine Eagle, then known as Monkey-eating Eagle, as “the air’s noblest flier.”
A Philippine Eagle pair, according to the PEF website, “needs about 4,000 to 11, 000 hectares of forest land to thrive in the wild,” depending on the number of prey items in the area.” The eagles typically nest on large dipterocarp trees like the native species Lauan.
The Philipine Eagle is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The IUCN said the number of these majestic birds “has seen a steep decline, primarily due to habitat destruction,” noting that since the 1960s, vast tracts of tropical forest had been cleared for commercial development, cultivation and mining activities.
The IUCN also observed that while a major captive breeding program is underway in Mindanao, “the key conservation need is to prevent any further forest loss within the range of this species.
“Teaching us again to hope”
When Pag-asa turned 13 in 2005, Lito Cereño, then PEF Education Program Manager, and one of those who assisted Pag-asa’s hatching, said the eagle was “teaching us again to hope, like it did when it first came out of its shell in 1992.”
In 1992, very little was known of the breeding and hatching of Philippine Eagle chicks, and Cereño and his colleagues relied mostly on instinct in helping the baby eagle out of its shell.
Since Pag-as’s birth, the PEF has gained substantial experience in captive breeding as it moves closer to the goal of having captive-bred birds complement eagle population in the wild.
Andi Baldonado, PEF Development Program Manager, said there are 33 eagles at the Philippine Eagle Center now, 17 from the wild and 16 bred in captivity, among them Mabuhay, Pag-asa’s only offspring.
A father at 21
On February 9, 2013, the Philippine Eagle Center welcomed Mabuhay (Long live), the offspring of Pag-asa, then 21 years old.
Like Pag-asa, Mabuhay was conceived through cooperative artificial insemination.
Mabuhay was the 25th Philippine Eagle in the captive breeding program since Pag-asa.
Ibañez described Mabuhay in 2013 as “a testimony of the continuous learning and resilience of the staff” in conservation breeding.
Salvador also said then that while the birth of Mabuhay was a cause for celebration, “we are still worried about the fate of the Philippine eagles in the wild. We breed Philippine eagles to replace population losses in the wild but we are uncertain of their safety once they are released. They are constantly under threat of human persecution,” Salvador said.
“We are certainly a long way off in coping with losses in the wild. The Philippine eagles and their forest habitat continue to be imperiled by man-made activities like logging, mining and other development projects,” he said.
Baldonado said three captive bred eagles were released to the wild but two died and one was returned to the Center.
Ibañez named the two eagles that died as Kabayan and Hinelaban.
Survival in the wild
Kabayan was Asia’s first captive-bred bird released into the forests of the Mt. Apo Geothermal Power Plant in North Cotabato on Earth Day, April 22, 2004. On the day of its release, Salvador gave the eagle a “50-50 chance survival in the wild.”
Kabayan survived for 261 days in the forest but died from electrocution on January 8, 2005 when it perched on a high-voltage cable about a kilometer from where it was freed.
Hinelaban, then three years old, was released to the wild, inside the protected Mt. Kitangland Mountain Range on October 29, 2009, along with Kalabugao, a rescued and rehabilitated eagle.
Hinelaban was reported missing a month after its release. 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.
Chick 23 was released “but recaptured after it started seeking people and human settlements in the wild,” Ibañez said.
On Pag-asa’s life and death in captivity, Salvador reiterated to MindaNews on Friday that the goal of the breeding program is to “release suitably reared eagles back to the wild” but “we have yet to perfect the technique for rearing them.”
“Even now, breeding and pairing them are still problematic. With so little resources and many restrictions, we just have to patiently work with what we have,” he said.
Pag-asa never got to fly out of his cage at the Philippine Eagle Center. But PEF officials continue to work and hope that the other captive bred eagles will not suffer the same fate. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / Mindanews)