It is only when you are closer that you will be able to appreciate things.
But it sounds easier said than done when you do it to birds.
I was fortunate enough to participate in a seminar related to communicating biodiversity. The seminar gave me the chance to birdwatch, or simply, marvel at the magnificence of the diversity of birds through binoculars.
At around 6:30 in the morning, I and my colleagues arrived at the Philippine Eagle Center, the sanctuary of the national symbol, the Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) for a guided birdwatching to set the mood for our seminar.
I was wrong when I thought of birdwatching as a tour to their caged birds, mostly belongs to the family of raptors such as the Brahminy Kites and White-bellied Sea Eagles. I undermined the whole birdwatching idea. It was harder than I thought.
We were asked to grab binoculars and bird guides with a stressful instruction: If you spot a bird, describe what it looked like and check it on your 1-inch thick, glossy-printed bird books. Stressful because it is my first time to do it and perhaps, just like anybody else, I see all birds the same. I think just seeing them is enough, I told myself.
After a while, we started to search the forest. We were looking up most of the time. Our guide Ej was skillful enough to understand the chirps and pointing us where it came from and what kind of birds are singing it-something that I also wanted to learn. Nightingales have amusing bird calling patterns. Melodic. Enchanting.
I was so desperate to find a bird. They were elusive, playful or blending in the canopies. How I wish I had that powerful vision eagles have. These raptors can see eight times farther than that of the humans. So I would not need binoculars. By the end of the activity, I was lucky to have found around five of them, usually rufous nightingales, Olive-backed sunbirds and fantails.
I was elated by their forms, colors, sounds and of course, their freedom. Their freedom to glide and flap their wings tree to another, perch on the branches, sing and call calms every tired sense. And it became possible because the trees provided them abode. They are far from threats of being killed in whatever way humans are capable of. They contributed to the protection and thriving of nature to the greatest extent they can do.
Not until we passed by Fighter.
The 3-year old eagle sat in his area, trying to hide his injured wings. He was gunshot in the mountains of Don Salvador, Mati, Davao Oriental that caused the amputation the main feather part of his left wing.
With the help of a staff at the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), we were able to take a groufie with him.
Fighter was not alone in the fight. Several other eagles were shot, most of them killed. The Philippine Eagles, being the largest and most powerful raptor in the world, the kind of bird only found in our country are also one of the most vulnerable to extinction. They are now critically endangered.
According to PEF, their existence is in danger because of two wrong practices: shooting and trapping, and deforestation. On February 24 this year, a national paper reported that an eagle named “Matatag” was shot by brothers in Baranggay Tambobong, Baguio District in Davao City.
According to Leonardo Pamplona, station commander of Baguio Police Station, the brothers Tiburcio, 24 and Rolando Aparesio, 18 mistook that the eagle was preying for their farm chickens so the older brother shot it with a caliber .22 rifle and hit eagle’s wings. The brothers, however voluntarily surrendered after bringing the wounded eagle to the PEF. Matatag was released by the PEF sometime in January last year. Read: Brothers surrender after shooting ‘Matatag’
On January 25, 2016, a one-year-old hawk-eagle died after being gunshot hitting the left lower breast. The bird was found at Quintuinan Hills of Camalig town in Albay. Read: Rare PH hawk-eagle shot dead in Albay
And on August 16, 2015, “Pamana” was killed after being shot in her right breast shattering her left shoulder. Her dead body was seen near the creek in Mount Hamiguitan Range in Davao Oriental, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site and recently enlisted as one of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Heritage Parks. Pamana was released by the PEF into the wild during the Independence Day. Read: Philippine Eagle Pamana found shot dead in Davao Oriental
The destruction the Philippine Eagles’ natural habitat also posed a threat to their existence. These wild raptors dwell in the rainforest and nests on large, old dipterocarp trees in lowland forests. Mountains and rainforests were gradually losing their potential to become home to the birds due to deforestation.
Benjamin Gregory Cruz, Biodiversity and Watersheds Improved for Stronger Economy and Ecosystem Resilience (B+WISER) Program Field Manager for Mt. Apo Region said one of the manners of deforestation is by debarking trees. People kill trees by gradually scraping its barks. They make the death of the tree an excuse to cut it down.
The recent forest fire incident at the peak of Mt. Apo last March 26, 2016 also jeopardized national bird’s habitat. The fire lasted for about three weeks and destroyed an estimated 1,000 hectares.
Adding to the list of causes of their endangerment are hunting for food and trade, collections, and pollution. Source: Bagheera
BUT WHY BOTHER?
We should save, protect, and conserve the Philippine Eagle because “it is an important natural and cultural heritage. It is a powerful symbol by which our people can rally around for the conservation of our natural resources. They also reign over the forest ecosystem, providing an umbrella of protection for all other species sharing its rainforest home. Their presence in the forests is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem”. (Philippine Eagle Foundation).
Put it in context, if the forest is healthy, our water sources such as our watersheds are sustainable. The PEF added that “a healthy forest helps control soil erosion, mitigate the effects of climate change, minimize flooding, and provides additional sources of food, medicine, clothing, and shelter for our people.”
They are endemic to the Philippines, one of the world’s rarest and has an alarming number of 400 pairs left in the country.
Another contributing factor in their dwindling population is their slow reproduction. They only lay one egg every two years. Parent eagles wait for their offspring to make it on their own (usually within two years) before producing another.
HOW CAN WE HELP?
We are no experts in handling, monitoring, and other technical stuff in protecting and preserving our national pride. But this should not be the reason not to do it. We have a lot in our hands than we thought. Here are some actions I can suggest we can do as ordinary citizens:
Initiate or Participate in Tree Planting Activities. You build a house when you don’t have one. And since our birds have been losing their homes, we should help in rebuilding it. Reforestation is the basic counter to deforestation. Plus, it benefits the ecosystem and supports biodiversity as a whole.
Volunteer in education campaigns and advocacies. “There is always strength in numbers,” says Mark Shields. Encourage more people to join the cause. Tug their heartstrings by educating them about the Philippine Eagles and what they can do to help protect and preserve them.
Report. Whenever you encounter incidents of cruelty to the Philippine Eagles in your community or you found a suspected eagle in your area, please don’t have second thoughts. Report them to your local Department of Environment and Natural Resources Office (DENR) or City Environment and Natural Resources (CENRO). You can also tap private environment organizations such as the Philippine Eagle Foundation.
Donate. The programs and initiatives for the protection and conservation of the Philippine Eagles also need financial help. So if you might as well drop quite handful of pennies. It is one way to invest in our future and the future of the next generation.
Birds in general, are agents of dispersal, helping in the spreading of seeds and plant. They control pests and insects, saving crops and other plants from devastation. Source: Iowa Nature Mapping
Thus, aside from possessing an innate charm, they are an aid in keeping the balance in the world we live in.
As I watched and waited for other birds to flaunt their majestic forms, I alternately bend my neck to ease the pain. I wondered, what if there are no longer birds to look up to, perhaps, the pain would be much agonizing because of a destroyed environment.
That is when there are no more birds to watch.
Thanks to the Philippine Eagle Foundation, ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, ASEAN, and Youth Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) most especially to Ms. Karen Lapitan for the opportunity.
In case you wanted to join in the cause of the Philippine Eagle Foundation such as to Donate, Adopt or Volunteer, check out their website by clicking their logo.
Bobbi Petalurca | April 26, 2016