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The sad state of the Philippine eagles

It was another blow to the conservation movement when the Philippine Eagle ( Pithecophagajefferyi ) named Pamana was discovered dead with a gunshot wound in Davao Oriental last week.

Considered as a highly threatened species, being categorized as critically endangered, the Philippine eagle is an endemic species to the Philippines, and declared as our national bird. Its remaining population, estimated only at 400 pairs, according to the Philippine Eagle Foundation, is surviving in the forest in Mindanao, Samar, and the Sierra Madre mountains in Northern Luzon.

Personnel of the PEF started tracing Pamana's whereabouts when they found out that the tracker attached to her body was no longer responding. Pamana's decomposing body was found in a creek at the Mount Hamiguitan Range Natural Park in Davao Oriental on August 16. Mount Hamiguitan is a declared protected area under the National Integrated Protected Areas System, and listed as one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in the Philippines.

It can be recalled that in 2012, Pamana survived minor gunshot wounds and bruises when she was found in Iligan City. Pamana was released in Mount Hamiguitan on June 12 this year after she successfully underwent treatment and rehabilitation at the breeding center of the PEF in Davao City.

The PEF decided to release Pamana in Mount Hamiguitan because it is a protected area and found as a suitable habitat for the Philippine eagle. Dennis Salvador, PEF executive director, said the bullet that killed Pamana came from an air gun, which is usually used in hunting eagles and other birds.

While investigations are still ongoing to identify the perpetrator, we can only speculate the reasons behind the killing of this iconic bird that is already at the brink of extinction in the wild. I am doubtful that the person responsible for the death of Pamana is just ignorant that Philippine eagles are protected species and it is prohibited and punishable to kill them.

I suspect that the killing of Pamana was intentional and I really hope that investigations by authorities will exactly determine the motivation for such a senseless act. Hunting and habitat destruction are main factors for the endangerment of the Philippine eagles.

In addition, conflicts between communities and wildlife are also a reality in the country. These circumstances occur in sites where people are settled adjacent or within natural habitats.

For instance, monkeys are hunted because they are consuming bananas, while wild pigs are threats to root crops. The Philippine eagle, on the other hand, may prey on chicken. These situations happen because some communities have already encroached on the habitat ranges of wildlife species.

This incident is another wake-up call for both local and national government agencies on the status of our protected areas and endemic species. Pamana was a protected species and released in a protected area, and yet we lost her because of an illegal activity.

How effective is the country's protected areas system in securing our threatened species and habitats? What are the actual protection and enforcement measures in place to ensure that illegal activities are prevented and curtailed?

How effective are our efforts to address the underlying factors why our endemic species and their habitats continue to be under severe threat? If the Philippine eagle, which is a very popular species, is still highly threatened in the wild, how much more our other endemic species that are less known and yet equally important?

Our wildlife species play crucial roles in maintaining ecological balance and sustaining ecosystem services for us to survive. Aside from important functions in food chain, many of our wildlife species serve as environmental indicators, pollinators, and seed dispersal agents, among others. The aesthetic values of the wildlife cannot be discounted, as well .*

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