Haring Ibon: The magnificent and critically endangered Philippine eagle

Photograph by Klaus Nigge, National Geographic

Many countries use symbols from nature to represent their nation.  These symbols are on flags, coat of arms, official seals and patriotic material  (e.g., the bald eagle for the United States, the Malayan tiger in Malaysia, llamas and condors for Bolivia and Columbia).

In the Philippines, one of the nation’s symbol is the Philippine Eagle, pithecophaga jefferyi – and referred to as “haring ibon” or king bird.  It is among the rarest and most powerful birds in the world.   In 1995, it was designated as the national bird as well as an official  symbol of the Philippines.

The Philippine eagle is one of only four official national symbols enacted through a proclamation by the executive department.  The others are the sampaguita flower, the narra tree, and arnis — the traditional Philippine martial arts, also known as eskrima.

Photo by Harry Asuncion Balais

Sadly, the Philippine Eagle is critically endangered.

Its habitat is the forest, and only 5% is all that remains of the Philippines’ virgin forest.

Although this eagle is one of the largest raptors in the world, it is defenseless against logging — both legal and illegal — that have diminished its home.

These days, it can only be found on four Philippine islands: Mindanao, Luzon, Samar and Leyte.

Photograph by Klaus Nigge – www.nigge.com

Among bird — and especially raptor— enthusiast, the Philippine eagle is considered to be a truly magnificent bird.  While most raptors have yellow or brown eyes, this eagle has a more uncommon blue-gray eye color.  Its average height is over 3 feet tall, and with a wingspan of over 6 feet, it is among the largest birds on our planet.

Lord of the Forest – Photograph by Klaus Nigge for National Geographic

The February, 2008 issue of National Geographic featured an article on the Philippine eagle by nature writer Mel White, with amazing photographs by Klaus Nigge.

Mel White writes about how the potential loss of this eagle “would steal some of the world’s wonder”.  Excerpt from the article  “Lord of the Forest, can the Philippine eagle survive in the shrinking forests of its island home” below:

If the irrevocable transition of one species from rarity to extinction causes a rent in the fabric of our planet, exactly how big a hole would be left by the loss of the Philippine eagle?

No disrespect is meant to the basking malachite damselfly or the fine-lined pocketbook mussel, because all creatures—and plants too—help turn the infinitely complex cogs of the biosphere.

But the loss of this glorious bird would steal some of the world’s wonder. It glides through its sole habitat, the rain forests of the Philippines, powerful wings spread to seven feet, navigating the tangled canopy with unexpected precision.

It is possible that no one has ever described this rare raptor, one of the world’s largest, without using the word “magnificent.” If there are those who did, then heaven heal their souls.

Philippine Eagle Photograph by Klaus Nigge – www.nigge.com

In the kind of irony all too familiar to conservationists, however, the very evolutionary adaptations that made it magnificent have also made it one of the planet’s most endangered birds of prey.

There is no competition for prey from tigers, leopards, bears, or wolves in the Philippine archipelago, the eagle’s only home, so it became, by default, the king of the rain forest.

Expanding into an empty ecological niche, it grew to a length of three feet and a weight of up to 14 pounds. A nesting pair requires 25 to 50 square miles of forest to find enough prey—mammals such as flying lemurs and monkeys; snakes; and other birds—to feed themselves and the single young they produce every other year.

“The birds had the islands all to themselves, and they grew big,” says Filipino biologist Hector Miranda, who has studied the eagles extensively. “But it was a trade-off, because the forest that created them is almost gone. And when the forest disappears—well, they’re at an evolutionary dead-end.”

The Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list the Philippine eagle in the “Threatened” category, and specifically, as “Critically Endangered“.

Photo of Philippine Eagle by Nigel Voaden / IUCN Web Site

IUCN conservation statuses

There are 3 stages within the “threatened” category:

  • Vulnerable
  • Endangered
  • Critically Endangered

Critically Endangered is the highest risk category assigned by the IUCN Red List for wild species, and it means that a species’ numbers have decreased, or will decrease, by 80% within three generations.

We must do what we can and work to save these creatures as next on the IUCN list is the symbol EW - extinct in the wild —- and then, EX – EXTINCT!

Extinction Extinction Extinct in the Wild Critically Endangered Endangered species Vulnerable species Near Threatened Threatened species Least Concern Least Concern

Although the Philippine Wildlife Act 9147 prohibits the killing, collection, possession, and maltreatment of wildlife, poachers — and perhaps those who do not know about the plight of these birds — continue to capture and harm Philippine eagles.

Last year, four birds were rescued from captivity by the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF).  A Philippine Star article by Edith Regalado, quotes PEF Executive director Dennis Salvador:

The abuse and harm caused on Philippine eagles illustrate our reckless management of our natural resources. If the Philippine eagle, which is already perhaps the most prominent and recognizable of Philippine wildlife species, suffers a fate as grim as the above four eagles have experienced, how much more other species? What bigger injustices could possibly be happening to the rest of the Philippine environment?” Salvador explained.

Salvador said crimes committed against nature have a much bigger impact than we can imagine, like the deforestation that caused landslides in Leyte.

“We condemn these acts of violence against nature and call on our fellow Filipinos to adopt more sustainable paths towards progress. Our economy is built on natural resources – the indiscriminate killing and plunder of these resources is not development. This will only bring us several steps backward,” Salvador added.

Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jeffery) in flight.  Female delivering twig to nest tree, Lantapan, Mount Kitanglad, Mindanao, Philippines. Photo by Klaus Nigge

As I write this post, and look at these photographs, I am saddened by thoughts of how close these creatures are to being extinct.  I hope it is not too late for these magnificent birds, and a national symbol for the Philippines.

Photo of captive eagle by Klaus Nigge

The same decimated forests that caused these birds to be critically endangered have caused havoc to human beings.

Deforestation is also the root cause of many mudslides and devastating floods that have killed thousands of people in the Philippines.

The most recent being the December, 2011 Typhoon Sendong that struck Northern Mindanao, the Visayas and Palawan and killed over 1,000 souls, and left tens of thousands homeless.

Perhaps by saving these magnificent creatures and what remains of their forest home, we can prevent future disasters and save lives.  Save the forest, save the eagles….and save ourselves?Time is running out for the Philippine eagle.  If you can help, please click on the image above, or here to help the Philippine Eagle Foundation.

Related Links:

Photograph by Klaus Nigge

Stunning Photographs of the Philippine Eagle by German Photographer Klaus Nigge – can be viewed on his website http://nigge.com/projects/philippine_eagle/thumbnails.html or visit the National Geographic article “Lord of the Forest” for more of Klaus Nigge’s photographs as well as videos.  I was in awe…and I promise you will be too.

 

Eagle Print by David Tomb – www.jeepneyprojects.org

The Jeepney Projects

Art for Conservation http://jeepneyprojects.org/current-projects/  

Fine art prints to raise money for research and public outreach/education about the eagle and it’s plight and the need for conservation of habitat where it still survives.

 

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – mission to help the world find
pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges

Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE) – Fostering Partnerships for the Environment

FPE’s mission is to be a catalyst for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of communities in critical sites.

Dr. Martin Williams Website Article – Philippine Eagle Mindanao – Bringing back ol’ blue eyes http://www.drmartinwilliams.com/conservation/philippine-eagle-mindanao.html

Alex Cooper Pronove’s Blog with articles on Typhoon Sendong and illegal logging topics http://retirednoway.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/surging-rainwater-coming-from-higher-ground-and-mudslides/

Christian Artuso Birds, Wildlife – post on Christian’s Mindanao trip, and birding, conservation, ecology and animal behavior topics.  Except from post:  As you have no doubt gathered from reading through these posts, the level of endemism on the Philippines is extraordinary. In fact, the Philippines not only boasts over 200 endemic species….

ARKive (www.ARKive.com) - videos of the Philippine eagle.  ARKive’s mission is promoting the conservation of the world’s threatened species, through the power of wildlife imagery.

“A vast treasury of wildlife images has been steadily accumulating over the past century, yet no one has known its full extent – or indeed its gaps – and no one has had a comprehensive way of gaining access to it. ARKive will put that right, and it will be an invaluable tool for all concerned with the well-being of the natural world.”

Sir David Attenborough -Wildscreen Patron