Nest sites of endangered Philippine Eagles endangered by Mt. Apo fire

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/29 March) – The executive director of the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) has expressed concern over reports that the fire that started at the peak of Mt. Apo last Saturday afternoon is spreading towards Mt. Talomo, location of the nest sites of the critically endangered Philippine Eagles, as one of the eagles they are tracking there “seems to be missing.”

“We are very concerned for the Lumads, the eagles and all other wildlife who call Mt Apo their home. Already, one of the young eagles we’re tracking seems to be missing,” Dennis Salvador, PEF Executive Director told MindaNews.

He said the PEF is tracking two eagles in their natural habitat there using GPS transmitters: an adult female and a young eagle. PEF personnel track the radio signals from a miniature transmitter harnessed on the eagles’ back.

Photo from the Philippine Eagle Foundation's website. Photo of a Philippine Eagle  flying in its natural habitat,  posted on the website of the Philippine Eagle Foundation. The late aviator Charles Lindbergh described the Philippine Eagle as “the air’s noblest flier.”

Salvador said the eagle is considered “missing” because “satellite signals cluser around one place which is unusual.” He said the satellite feed was obtained during the weekend.

According to the PEF website, tracking or tagging the Philippine Eagles in the wild is part of the PEF’s research agenda which involves “locating active nests, monitoring the breeding status of wild eagles and juvenile dispersal, tracking them to establish pattern in home ranges and habitat use, and other aspects of the bird’s life history.”

Its field research also focuses on designing and executing habitat management plans and establishing forest corridors to bridge the small patches of forests remaining in Mindanao,” it said.

The PEF conducts tagging and monitoring of wild eagles to understand how they use their habitats and to determine its home range.

“To understand further their breeding behavior in the wild, our team routinely conducts nest surveys and monitors Philippine Eagle pairs to ensure their chick successfully matures and fledges. To make these possible, we have engaged communities to help us monitor and protect the nest sites within their area,” it said.

Salvador said their staff and volunteer forest guards “have been deployed not only to check on the eagles but to help suppress the fire if necessary.”

He said they will be mobilized to build firebreaks to stop the spread of the fire.

At least 200 persons in the North Cotabato and Davao side of Mt. Apo have volunteered to help construct fire line or fire breaks.

Digos City Tourism Officer Edgardo “Bebot” Elera told MindaNews in Barangay Kapatagan, Davao del Sur Monday that the fire was still very far from human population and that efforts are being undertaken to construct fire lines to prevent its spread.

“This fire clearly will impact people and wildlife adversely in the next few years. As another natural heritage is diminished, it once again brings to fore the issue of mitigation and law enforcement on crimes against nature. How much more are we really prepared to lose before we act on this?” Salvador asked.

Described by the late aviator, Charles Lindbergh, as “the air’s noblest flier,” the Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga Jefferyi), declared national bird in 1995, 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 PEF estimates a population of “only 400 pairs remaining in the wild.”

The PEF’s Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos, Davao City, hosts a total of 35 Philippine Eagles,  20 of them bred in captivity.

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.

As of Monday afternoon, there was no available data as yet as to the number of hectares destroyed by the fire in the country’s highest peak. As of 5 p.m. Monday, the Eastern Mindanao Command which sent two aircraft to do an aerial survey morning and afternoon, reported that  “large portion of fire is now within the side of Talomo mountain range and Davao Sur area.”

There were reports that the fire had destroyed 200 to 300 hectares but Elera said he cannot confirm these reports. Kidapawan tourism officer Joey Recemilla, also head of the Ecoturism Committee of the Mt. Apo Natural Park-Protected Area Management Board told MindaNews that as of Monday, the Bureau of Fire Protection had declared “fire out” in the North Cotabato side of the mountain.

Comprising 54,974.87 hectares, Mt. Apo Natural Park (MANP) is one of the Key Biodiversity Areas of the country.

The Park straddles two regions — Davao City and Davao del Sur’s Bansalan, Digos and Sta. Cruz in Region 11 and Kidapawan City and North Cotabato’s Makilala and Magpet towns in Region 12.

Mt. Apo has an elevation of 9,692 feet (2,954 meters above sea level). It is classified by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) as a “potentially active” volcano. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)