Generation next waits in a cage

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

MABUHAY, the first of the second generation of the Philippine Eagles bred and hatched in captivity, is now a year old. The Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) celebrated her first birthday on February 9, 2014 at the Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos in Calinan in Davao City.

Children, parents, and other guests were invited to celebrate Mabuhay’s hatchday that featured an educational presentation about the importance of raptors to the environment and a tour around the center.

Born in 2013, Mabuhay is the first offspring of the 22-year-old Pag-asa, the first Philippine Eagle hatched and bred in captivity. Mabuhay’s mother is Kalinawan, a 30-year-old eagle rescued in Zamboanga del Sur in 2009.

The donor for Mabuhay’s upkeep, who prefers to remain anonymous, named the youngest eagle Mabuhay to represent life. Mabuhay means welcome, to live or live well. According to the donor, what is more important is for the public to focus on the Philippine Eagle and help them protect the endangered giant raptors.

PEF curator Anna Mae Sumaya told Sun.Star Davao that a donor who adopts an eagle would be given the privilege to name the eagle. Mabuhay’s godmother allocated more than P150,000 for food, veterinary needs, maintenance and other expenses, she said.

Jonasyl Aubrey Auxtero, communication officer of the foundation that adopting the eagle means funding its upkeep and not taking it home. An eagle in captivity costs around P150,000 a year for its upkeep. A five-year commitment will bring the annual contribution to P125,000 a year.

The one-year-old eagle is a product of artificial insemination between Pag-asa and Kalinawan. Breeders at the center have no choice but to employ artificial insemination -- catch the semen from a male eagle and inject it to the female, as waiting for natural copulation is close to impossible in captivity.

“There are factors like food, protection and nesting that needs to be considered. Aside from that, there are reasons why we had to resort into the artificial insemination. First, while the male gets into all stages of the breeding cycle, there are cases that he still fails to copulate,” Sumaya told the invited visitors.

Another reason is that most eagles at the center are already imprinted on humans, which means an eagle has accepted the human as its sexual partner. Philippine eagles are monogamous and will only mate with an eagle he has chosen. Third, there is a shortage of unrelated “sexually mature” male eagles. In-breeding, or having eagles hatched from eggs or sperms of relatives will weaken the species.

Crippled or disabled eagles cannot have natural sex. And fifth, some pairs of eagles of opposite sexes would rather kill one another than have sex.

Mabuhay who weighed 158 grams after it was hatched last February 9 around 1:55 a.m. is now 6.1 kilograms. However, she is still not allowed to be exposed to humans so as to prevent her from being imprinted.

“The zero human contact is to prevent the eagle from being imprinted. We have to assure that Mabuhay imprints on eagles. This is important to eagles, for them not to seek humans as their social partners and for the PEF to determine whether the eagle is for release or for breeding,” Sumaya said.

Mabuhay, being the youngest eagle in the center, was marionette reared and trained by her mentor bird named Bighani. Recently, the one-year-old eagle was transferred to a much bigger enclosed space so that she can exercise her wings and learn to fly.

Since Paga-asa’s successful hatching in 1992, Auxtero said PEF’s Captive Breeding Program has produced 25 Philippine Eagles. Mabuhay is the 25th captive-bred. As of now, there are already 36 Philippine Eagles housed at the center.

The foundation also rehabilitates injured eagles recovered from the wild. The center is also home to 10 other species of birds, four species of mammals, and two species of reptiles that were rescued.

Four bird species were featured during the hatchday celebration of Mabuhay. A White-Bellied Sea-Eagle named Big Foot; a Brahminy Kite named Alex; a Giant-Scops Owl named Choco; and a Philippine Hawk Eagle named Amor, who is the loudest among the birds.

The Philippine Eagle has as wingspan of two meters, the widest in the world. It is the only blue-eyed bird of prey in the world with eyes that can see eight times the distance humans can see. It builds nest on old growth trees between 700 to 1,200 meters above sea level.

The chick stays in a nest for around five and a half months before it will fly out. The parents wait until their offspring can able to make it on its own usually within two years before producing another.

It is seriously endangered and it is believed that there are only around 400 pairs in the wild left today. They are threatened by deforestation through expanding agricultures and endless logging, and being hunted for sports or out of ignorance, the PEF said.

Most of them were shot. The latest, rescued eagle Minalwang who was released back to the wild on Mt. Balatukan, Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental in August 2013 was found dead on October 11, 2013.

Hagpa who was released in June 2010 was also shot dead. Hineleban, who was released in Mt. Kitanglad in October 2009 is also believed dead after a male eagle carcass was found in Barangay Lupiagan in Bukidnon on January 15, 2010.

In 2008, the legs of eagle Kagsabua released on Mt. Kitanglad Natural Park in Sumilao in Bukidnon, was found buried beside a river in Impasug-ong in Bukidnon.

The PEF added that the forests are now becoming increasingly unhealthy and unable to satisfy the needs of the eagles for food and shelter, especially it is endlessly being removed, leading to the loss of nesting places for the eagles.

PEF executive director Dennis Salvador earlier said the foundation still need to restore Philippine Eagles’ population and its natural habitat despite having Mabuhay and despite investing a lot of time, effort and resources to conserve the Philippine eagle.

The PEF takes a comprehensive approach in conservation, engaging in several researches, an off-site and on-site protections, community based efforts and public education so to promote greater understanding and achieve results in the preservation of the eagles and its habitat.

“Much of the successes of the foundation’s conservation actions are rooted on research which aims to understand and thereby address the decrease of the Philippine Eagle population. The goal is to augment the species dwindling population in their natural habitat,” Auxtero said.

The PEF believes that it is not yet too late for the national bird -- Philippine Eagle -- to soar freely in the wild again, hence, Mabuhay’s hatchday is worthy of celebration. Of course, the celebration will never be complete with a birthday cake.

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