How the Philippine Eagle is Reclaiming its Habitat and Saving the Forest

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For decades, while no one was looking, over 100,000 hectares of Philippine forest was destroyed, forcing the Philippine Eagle into almost extinction. But things are changing. Now, when one of these eagles is released in the wild, the area becomes protected, barring any destructive activities. Will their existence put an end to deforestation in the region? 

Words by Tammy Danan

Photography by Ugo Di Mauro

Back in the day, it was easy to spot a banog, or in English, a great eagle. Today, it requires a lot of patience and willpower. Due to deforestation, the Philippine Eagle is now almost extinct with only approximately 400 pairs in the wild. A huge part of its habitat, which are low-land and mid-elevation forests, has been bulldozed and flattened for city development.

But things could be turning around. Because the Philippine Eagle is a critically endangered species, whenever one is released in the wild, the local government labels the area as protected, prohibiting any destructive activities like logging. It’s a step that could potentially save the country’s remaining forest land.

“Each pair requires 4,000 to 11,000 hectares of forest land to thrive in the wild.”

Unique to the Philippines, the Philippine Eagle is one of the largest raptors in the world. Standing at three feet and with a wingspan of up to seven feet, each pair requires 4,000 to 11,000 hectares of forest land to thrive in the wild. As a bird of prey, they also play a vital role in balancing the forest ecosystem. But they were not spared from the destruction humans have caused.

From 2002 to 2018, the Philippines has lost a total of 135,352 hectares of primary forest. And according to the World Database on Protected Areas, only 15.3% of the Philippines terrestrial area is protected. This means, for the most part, logging, mining, and other destructive activities could still take place in the country’s remaining forests, wreaking havoc, and no one would bat an eye.

Such destruction is the main reason why there are only a few hundred pairs of Philippine Eagles in the wild today. They are known to use the same nest every breeding season, which happens once every two years. If lucky, their chicks would use that same nest where they hatched when they’re fully grown and ready to build their own bird family. If that nest is still around. The loss of these nests is undoubtedly a disruption to the breeding cycle.

Philippine Eagles are also known to be monogamous; loyal to their mates. A death of a mate could mean that these raptors never breed again. And while the country has more than 7,000 islands, the Philippine Eagle can be found in only four.

“As a bird of prey, they play a vital role in balancing the forest ecosystem.”

The Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) has been studying the behavior of these raptors for decades. It is the only breeding and rehab facility of the Philippine Eagle in the world, and they’ve been working tediously to ensure the eagles will still have a place to call home once they’re ready to be released in the wild. Apart from breeding and treating injured eagles, the foundation also works with local communities in areas still rich in forestry. They understand that just like the Philippine Eagles, these locals living in far-flung areas also depend heavily on the forest. PEF runs an education program to ensure locals understand that the Philippine Eagles are critically endangered and shouldn’t be subject to hunting. Moreso, the land where they live needs to be protected.

PEF also develops income generating programs to help rehabilitation of the eagles. They teach local communities how to make eagle plushies and stuffed toys, which are sold online and at the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City. These sorts of programs are needed because caring for these eagles doesn’t come cheap. Rehabilitating them and prepping them for release can take months, sometimes years, and cost thousands of dollars. Which is why the foundation always welcomes donations and continues to develop creative ways to keep the funds coming.

“Each eagle release is a statement that there’s still a chance.”

Today, each eagle release is a statement that there’s still a chance. For them and for the tropical forests of the country. The more eagles released in the wild, the vaster forest area becomes protected. And when people work hand in hand, maybe, someday in the future, this country’s children will have the great privilege of seeing Philippine Eagles flying freely in the skies on ordinary days.

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Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a freelance storyteller based in the Philippines, reporting on environmental and social issues. She also covers travel, film, and photography and how they intersect with our everyday life. Her words have appeared in Al Jazeera, VICE, Ozy, ZEKE Magazine, Audubon.org, and others.

2020-11-16T03:23:41+00:00Categories: Conservation|Tags: , |