PEF appeals for donation as COVID-19 batters Philippine eagle conservation

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 28 December) — Conservation efforts for the critically endangered Philippine eagle took a beating from the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, with the executives of the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) appealing to the public for donations to help keep their work to protect the giant raptors going.

Dennis Joseph Salvador, PEF executive director, said the center ‘s main income stream almost ran dry as the COVID-19 pandemic forced its gates to close to the public last March.

“We lost about a third of our revenues… The large chunk of conservation money came from the gate (receipts) of the center,” he told MindaNews on the phone.

He was referring to the PEF’s Philippine Eagle Center in Calinan district in Davao City, where the eagles are bred in captivity. It is also home to other animals like monkeys, crocodiles and other bird species, to name just a few.

For the past 30 years, Salvador noted the foundation has been getting major funding not from the government but corporate or private contributors.

With the pandemic continuing to rear its ugly head, he stressed the short-term conservation efforts for the national bird pose a big challenge.

“We’re (financially) crippled due to lack of resources. Until this pandemic is effectively handled, the problem of lack of resources and policies associated in curtailing this pandemic will keep us grounded and unable to respond to the needs of the eagles in the wild,” he said.

According to the PEF, there are an estimated 400 pairs of Philippine eagles left in the wild.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature classified the Philippine eagle as critically endangered, meaning the species faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild due to human pressure, such as hunting and deforestation.

Despite the debilitating impact of COVID-19 to the PEF, Salvador assured the foundation will try its best to respond to the needs of the Philippine eagles in captivity or in the wild.

A pair of Philippine eagle needs about 4,000 to 11,000 hectares of forestland to thrive in the wild, depending on the number of prey items in the area.

A pair of Philippine eagles hovers above Pasonanca Natural Park in Zamboanga City. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jayson Ibañez of the Philippine Eagle Foundation

Salvador said despite their financial trouble, the center managed to keep intact its almost 50 employees with the continuing support of corporate sponsors.

He added they have launched crowd-funding initiatives through social media, appealing to the public to support it to help in conserving the Philippine eagles, which can live in captivity for at least 40 years but less in the wild due to human threats, such as hunting and deforestation.

Dr. Jayson Ibañez, PEF director for research and conservation, told MindaNews separately that the center lost some P2 million per month due to the COVID-19 lockdowns.

The center re-opened to the public in October, operating at a limited capacity and requiring visitors to book at least 24 hours in advance. Visitors need to wear face masks and face shields and to observe physical distancing while in the facility in line with the efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19.

“Since we reopened our gates to the public, we have been receiving very few visitors but in some days, there’s no one visiting at all,” Ibañez said on the phone.

The entrance fee since the reopening has been packaged at P300 per person due to added activities, including the viewing of “Kalayaan” – a 10-minute film following a juvenile Philippine eagle’s journey in the wild.

Previously, the center, which, according to Ibañez, receives an average of 200,000 visitors annually, charged a fee of P100 for kids and P150 for adults.

Ibañez said the center currently houses 34 Philippine eagles either for breeding, education or rehabilitation of those rescued from the wild.