Jun. 13, 2013 (TSR) – The Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has identified the Cordillera Mountains and Iligan City in Lanao del Norte province as new distribution and conservation areas, with Leyte as rediscovery site, for the Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) as part of the ongoing efforts to improve the chances for survival of the critically endangered bird.
Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Ramon J. P. Paje said the decision came after sightings of the majestic eagle in Apayao and Leyte provinces were reported earlier this year by the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) and the University of the Philippines (UP), respectively.
Saying these sightings offered “new beacons of hope” for the Philippine Eagle, Paje called for a more conscious effort among Filipinos to ensure the continued existence of the so-called “Haring Ibon” or King of Birds.
“The citizenry should manifest its stance to uphold what this charismatic and magnificent bird depicts—the Filipinos’ insatiable desire and aspiration to rise and soar against the challenges they are faced with,” Paje said.
The recent sightings of the rare eagle were the focus of the celebrations marking the Philippine Eagle Week, which is held every June 4-10 of each year.
The Philippine Eagle, the country’s national bird since 1995 and once called as “the world’s noblest flier” by American aviator Charles Lindbergh, is considered critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Birdlife International for its diminishing numbers in the wild, which is mostly caused by habitat destruction and poaching.
Through the Philippine Raptors Conservation Program of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB), the DENR has partnered with organizations such as PEF, UP and Haribon Foundation in informing the public about the Philippine Eagle, particularly in identified eagle habitats.
Under the conservation program, which is implemented in 10 regions nationwide, survey and monitoring activities are done to document the location of breeding pairs and nests in the wild.
These activities have also yielded data on new distribution areas or “rediscoveries,” just like in Leyte where the last documented sighting was 30 years ago.
The Philippine eagle sighting was first documented in 1896 in Paranas Island off Samar province. Its natural habitats such as Northern Sierra Madre, Mt. Kitanglad, and Mt. Apo have been declared as protected areas.
PAWB Director Theresa Mundita Lim said the discovery of eagles in the wild calls for the preservation of the remaining forest habitats. “The Philippine eagle’s presence in the forest speaks of a healthy and sustainable environment,” she said.
Lim explained that the eagle, as a natural predator, upholds the ecological balance in the forests by regulating the population of smaller animals like rodents and snakes that can destroy agricultural crops and pose danger to humans.
Other raptors also serve as “natural garbage disposers” when they scavenge on dead animal carcasses to prevent disease outbreaks, thus maintaining a balanced and robust ecosystem.
Lim said awareness programs include correcting misconceptions on the eagle being a nuisance or pest.
“Habitats that are conserved and protected by communities therefore contribute to environmental stability and security of human well-being, especially in the face of climate change,” she pointed out.
In February 1999, Presidential Proclamation No. 79 declared June 4-10 of every year as Philippine Eagle Week to commemorate efforts in environmental conservation and seek support to strengthen attempts to save the Philippine Eagle from extinction through collaboration among various sectors.