Pamana’s tragic end

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 19 Aug) – Philippine Eagle Pamana did not last more than 59 days in the wild after she was released last June 12 in Mt. Hamiguitan, Davao Oriental. She was shot by unknown perpetrators last August 10, the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) said.

Dennis Joseph Salvador, PEF executive director, said that the perpetrators of the crime have yet to be identified.

He said that it took their team of biologists six days to track the bird through the embedded transmitter due to the difficult terrain. Pamana’s body was found within a kilometer radius from where she was released and was then brought to Davao City from Barangay San Isidro in Davao Oriental for necropsy.

Necropsy findings showed that Pamana had a 5mm bullet hole in her right breast (with some metal fragments); her left shoulder blade was also shattered. The weapon that killed her remains unidentified.

Salvador said that their foundation will be closely working with the authorities to get to the bottom of this tragedy.

The shooting of Pamana is a violation of Administrative Order No. 235, s. 1970. This law prohibits wounding, taking, selling, exchanging, and/or exporting, processing and killing of the Philippine Eagle. “Any person found violating this Order shall be punished in accordance with the provisions of Act No. 2590.” According to that act, violators will be fined and imprisoned for 12 years.

Prior to August 10, Salvador narrated that Pamana was in perfect health. Based on the tracking device, he said that there was no indication that anything abnormal was happening to the bird. Salvador even said that he, along with his team, was still enjoying telescope videos of the bird’s activities in the wild at that time.

On August 11, the onsite biologists reported that a mortality mode signal from the transmitter set off that raised their concern on the eagle. When a signal like this is emitted, it can only mean two things: the transmitter was removed or the bird is dead.

According to PEF, it’s difficult to tell how the eagle was shot exactly (whether it was on flight, resting, etc.). The gunshot wounds are the only leads present. The body of the eagle was also intact when it was found; there was no amputation of certain body parts that can be potentially used and sold by poachers for money.

Even with the aggressive and territorial nature of the Philippine Eagle, they can still be very vulnerable and their animal instincts can be limited.

Salvador called on the public to be more involved with environmental protection especially when endemic animals like the Philippine Eagle are concerned. These eagles, with only a few number in the wild, have high endemic value and play very important roles in the food chain.

The total cost of raising Pamana to her optimal state—from recovering her after a gunshot incident in April 2012, to rehabilitation up until the June 12 release this year—is about P1.7 million.

Salvador commented that it’s difficult to find out why some people shoot the eagle, even if this proves to have no real benefit to them.

Threats to the survival of the Philippine Eagle persist amid efforts of PEF and its partners to educate the public about the importance of the national bird to the ecosystem.

Andrea Baldonado, PEF fund-raising officer, said March this year that the eagle is still being hunted in the wilds, even if the number of cases dwindled over the years.

“Threats to the Philippine Eagle remain constant,” Baldonado said. “These [human induced activities] include hunting and deforestation.”

The foundation continues with its efforts to educate people who live near the nesting sites of the eagles in the uplands.

The critically endangered Philippine Eagle is found nowhere else in the world except in only four islands of the country. PEF estimates that there are only 400 pairs remaining in the wild.

Mt. Hamiguitan, an estimated 30,000-hectare forest and a UNESCO World Heritage site, was supposed to be home to Pamana after being under the care of PEF. Before being released to the wild, Pamana went through rehabilitation in the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC) in Davao since she was rescued from the mountains of Iligan City. She arrived in the center in April 2012, originating from Gabunan Range in Iligan City.

According to PEC curator Anna Sumaya, she was found by a local perched on a tree near a creek appearing weak and docile; it was later found out that she had a gunshot on her left breast and on her left wing.

Joselin Marcus Fragada, regional director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said that a team assigned in protected areas has already been dispatched to investigate this incident further. From there and when they get the full story, he said that they can determine sanctions for the perpetrators. He said that he, too, is bothered by these sorts of activities.

He called on the public to be more involved and educated with preserving endangered animals like the Philippine Eagle. “I truly hope that the public take this seriously because hunting is not a game,” he said.

Pamana is the 15th eagle released by PEF since 1986.

Bird watching

Robby Alabado III, director of the Department of Tourism in Region 11, confessed that he cried when he heard about Pamana being shot. Alabado was present during the release of Pamana last June. He pondered on why we can’t protect the bird, which he believes also has a strong cultural value to the country and to the community.

“Eagles are supposed to be born to fly free,” he said. He nevertheless lauds the PEF for its tireless efforts in eagle conservation.

Alabado said that one of DOT’s thrusts to bring people to the country is to hold bird watching tours for high end markets. The bird watching community, he said, always looks out for the Philippine Eagle and are willing to pay just to see it. Bird watchers will still visit the country and will be looking at how government takes care of the environment.

The most critical thing about Pamana’s death in terms of tourism is how Mt. Hamiguitan is involved. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and now it’s become the same place where an endangered animal died.

“This is going to be a loud wake up call for our government and stakeholders to work together to protect the reputation of the country,” Alabado said. “We need to redeem ourselves by taking drastic action against wild bird hunters and trappers.”

Alabado, who is a bird watcher himself, said “the economic value of wild birds for tourism purposes is very high considering that foreign tourists go the extra mile to come to our country and to its rural areas just to see where the wild birds are.”

Animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) condemned the act of cruelty to the eagle.

“All animals – regardless of what kind – want to live freely, be able to raise families, and socialize with friends. Pamana’s freedom was cut short and the shooter should be found and charged to the full extent of Philippine law. Shooting animals in the wild is a coward’s pastime. Hunters use animals as mere targets and they lack empathy, understanding, and respect for living creatures. PETA condemns this act of cruelty,” Rochelle Regodon, PETA Asia-Pacific campaign manager, said in an email.

According to an article from the PEF website written by Jayson Ibanez, PEF Director for Research and Conservation, Pamana was “soft-released” through a “hacking” method. “This procedure involves caging the bird at the release site for at least two weeks prior to setting it free. This adjusted or acclimatized the bird to local conditions,” he wrote.

“After release, supplemental food will be offered just in case he finds it hard to hunt. The bird will have a GPS satellite tag to allow remote monitoring and a VHF (radio) transmitter so biologists can track its location in real time,” Ibanez said.