Basilan mayor turns over sea eagle to DENR

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 6 July) – A town mayor in Basilan turned over to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Wednesday a seven-year-old white-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) that he took under his care since 2009.

Mayor Anwar Abdulmajid, of Hadji Muhtammad town, said the eagle was taken from its nesting place sometime in 2004 by Silong Saripa, a fishermen from his town.

Saripa, who is now treasurer of Barangay Lubukan, raised the eagle since then and handed it later to the mayor.

Abdulmajid, who turned the eagle to community environment and natural resources officer Tito Gadon, said he named the eagle as “Pilas,” derived from the Pilas Group of Islands, since it was caught in one of the islands. The islands, which used to be part of Lantawan town, are now collectively known as the Hadji Muhtammad municipality since it was carved out of Lantawan in 2007.

The white-bellied sea eagle is found in Southeast Asia all the way to Australia, and breeds and hunts near the water, fish being its main food, along with some animals, according to Wikipedia. It is said to be vulnerable to human disturbance and has become rare in Southeast Asia. It has even been even rated as “threatened” in some parts of Australia, where it is revered by the indigenous people.

Two months ago, Abdulmajid entrusted the eagle’s care to Capt. Tommy Prado, civil-military operations officer of the Special Operations Task Force-Basilan (SOTF-B).

Prado said they built a tree house for the eagle and fed it with galunggong three times a day. “He likes galunggong so much that we called him galunggong,” he said. It is only lately that Prado and company learned that the bird is a white-bellied sea eagle.

“The eagle even eats chocolates,” Prado said, noting that the American soldiers stationed in Basilan has grown fond of the eagle, feeding it with chocolates.

he said they decided to turn over the eagle to Gadon based on the advise of Col. Alex Macario, SOTF-B commander, to entrust the bird to the custody “of the experts in handling wildlife species.”

Gadon said the white-bellied sea eagle has been listed by the DENR as an endangered species in Palawan.

He said they will place the eagle at the DENR’s rescue center in Barangay Pasonanca, this city, and train the bird on survival.

“We will train it how to hunt for food so it can live on its own since our objective is to set it free. It belongs to the wild,” Gadon said. But if the eagle cannot live in the wild on its own, the DENR will keep it for breeding and educational purposes. (MindaNews)