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Conservation breeding sanctuary, a wing of hope for the Philippine eagle

The soon-to-be inaugurated Philippine Eagle Conservation Breeding Sanctuary (PECBS) in Davao City holds the hope to sustainably conserve and propagate the endangered national bird – the Philippine eagle.

This sanctuary has been conceptualized to be a safe haven for the eagles to breed in a natural environment and prepare them for release back into their natural habitat.

On-site visit and inspection of Dr. Chris McClure, Executive Vice-President of Science and Conservation-The Peregrine Fund. (Photo by PEF)

The Conceptual framework of the Philippine eagle sanctuary finally came into fruition in 2021 after two decades of proposal with the perseverance, dedication and passion of the main author, Dennis Joseph I. Salvador, the executive director of the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF). 

Why establish PECBS?

The creation of a sanctuary for the eagles is an initiative of PEF through the leadership of Salvador, with a campaign tagline #TransferBreedingEaglesNow.

The main purpose of PECBS is to transfer the captive-breeding eagles into a more isolated, bigger, safer, nature-oriented, and forested environment area, where the birds could procreate naturally.

At the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC), their present shelter, the captive birds are more exposed to risks and disturbances, such as the increasing expansion of industries like poultry farms and backyard farms that may engender avian diseases like bird flu and nasal diseases.

“These are the top two diseases that may affect, and in fact could be fatal to the Philippine eagles,” said Dr. Jayson C. Ibañez, PEF’s Director of Research and Conservation.

“Unfortunately, hindi po mapigilan din ng City Government at mga agencies because lahat po ng mga lands surrounding the Philippine Eagle Center, except of course dun sa Malagos Protected Area natin, puro mga private lots, so may karapatan sila of their lands,” he added.

The woodland buffer in the neighboring lands around PEC, which is located in Malagos, Baguio District in Davao City, has also thinned out.

PEF staff with Forest Guards hauling materials for the construction. (Photo by PEF)

The new breeding process

Unlike the present breeding procedures through artificial incubation, the new facility features natural breeding techniques.

“We have these challenges with yung procedure natin yung artificial incubation, kukunin mo yung egg at ilalagay sa incubator (we’ll get the egg and put it in the incubator) and the chick once it hatch, ang mag aalaga nyan is yung caretaker (the caretaker will be the one to take care),” Ibañez.

These breeding and conservation techniques create human imprints on the eagles.

“The Philippine Eagle thinks that it’s a human being. So, it is now attached to the person, and it is difficult to release them to the wild. Because once you released the bird, it would seek people and that would make them vulnerable to shooting activities,” he explained.

The improved techniques will have a natural pair of breeding eagles that can create their nest, naturally incubate their eggs, and take care of their eaglets in a more natural manner.

“So this way, we can make sure that the chicks that’s been hatched, they’ll get used to their right species,” Ibañez stated.

Having the right temperature and the right kind of vegetation in the area, PEF is hopeful to increase the success rate of the breeding system for the eagles, he said.

The construction of Duplex Holding Cages, putting up screens. (Photo by PEF)
“Panubadtubad” of Bagobo-Tagabawa community to pray for the safety of the workers. (Photo by PEF)

The sanctuary area and facilities

Nestled within a 13.46-hectare area in Barangay Eden, Toril in Davao City, the PECBS will hold facilities such as cages, breeding chamber, staff houses, hospital, food preparation, quarantine facility, and food stock, with construction currently nearing completion. The 8.16 hectares of this area will serve as a buffer zone of natural forest. The whole area is within the 105-hectare reservation area nestled at the foot of Mt. Apo, having an altitude ranging 1,000-1,200 meters above sea level.

Meeting between PEF Executive Director Dennis Joseph I. Salvador (extreme right) and Davao City Mayor Sebastian Duterte (in black). Also in photo are PEF Development Program Manager Andi Baldonado and City Planning Officer Ivan Cortez. (Photo by PEF)

He mentioned that while the construction of the facility is still in progress, the completion of the breeding cages is anticipated later this year, facilitating the transfer of the initial six breeding Philippine eagles and one natural pair from PEC. Currently, six holding cages have been finished, with one eagle to be housed in each holding cage.

“We have six holding cages, so that would accommodate six Philippine eagles, one eagle per cage. And we also have a breeding cage for a natural pair,” Ibañez mentioned.

Initially, the target completion date was set for April 2023. However, due to challenges encountered during construction, such as adverse weather conditions, there was a delay. Fortunately, with the assistance of both individual and group volunteers, the project persevered. 

The construction is now expected to conclude by the end of September this year, and the transfer of the birds is planned to take place approximately one month thereafter.

“If ever matapos sya ng September, we will do the transfer of the first eight. And from there, the following year during breeding, umpisahan ulit yung construction ng mga (construction then starts for the) additional cages,” Ibañez disclosed.

He said that the construction is in accordance with local, national, and international standards. To ensure that standards are followed, Dr. Chris McClure, executive vice-president of the Science and Conservation-The Peregrine Fund, visited the area and inspected the construction activities.

“He was very impressed by our facility. (The construction) is based on the international standards for the care of captive eagles, large eagles,” Ibañez said.

Volunteers from Forward Service Support Unit of the Philippine Army helping in the hauling of materials. (Photo by PEF)

Collaboration and support

The sanctuary project is a collaborative effort involving private corporations, local government agencies, local communities, and individual Filipinos. Major sponsors include Boeing South East Asia among the private corporations, the City Government of Davao, which generously provided the land area, and the Bagobo-Tagabawa community among the local communities.

The land for the new facility is a contribution from the local government of Davao City, facilitated through a Usufruct Agreement, which is valid for 25 years.

Proposed food preparation are in the facility during the media visit. (Photo by PEF)

Call for more support

PEF expresses its gratitude for the ongoing project and continues to appeal for support to safeguard and preserve these iconic birds and their natural habitat.

 Ibañez extended his appreciation to supporters from the private sector, government agencies, private individuals, non-government organizations, and local communities.

He also shared that the funding support faced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the ongoing importance of financial assistance to sustain their critical conservation efforts.

“But, through the help of mostly private citizens, we were able to push through. So, we’re very thankful for that,” he said,  adding that “We were able to feed over a hundred wildlife. We have given care and nourishment to 33 eagles that we have right now.”

“And we also urge the public to support the conservation work that is being undertaken by the indigenous communities on our behalf. We have champions, forest guards, women, youth, who are really trying their best to protect the Philippine Eagles, the forest habitat and also the biodiversity.”

The Philippine Eagle, also referred to as Pithecophaga Jefferyi, is one of the world's rarest eagles, identified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with an estimate of only 392 pairs left living in the wild.

In Davao, PEF successfully marked its conservation and breeding efforts when it produced the first two Philippine Eagles bred and hatched in captivity in 1992.

It was the birth of Pag-asa (Hope) and Pagkakaisa (Unity) that caught the world's attention, and eventually led to the subsequent outpouring of public support and sympathy, which bolstered the efforts to save the species.

Part of PEF’s comprehensive approach to conservation of the Philippine eagles and their habitat, are engaging in research, off-site and on-site protection, community-based efforts, and public education. (RJ/CLC, PIA-XI) 

The construction of Duplex Holding Cages, welding the screens. (Photo by PEF)

About the Author

Carina Cayon

Regional Editor

Region 11

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