(Conclusion, continued from yesterday)
Things took an unfortunate turn when the team returned in January 2020 and saw the Philippine Eagle’s nest inside Pasonanca Natural Park in Zamboanga City was empty.
When the team climbed onto the nest, they found a few feathers, small bones, and skin patches of the eaglet, with no sign of its parents. The team collected the scant remains of the young eagle and sent these to the University of the Philippines for DNA and genetic tests.
While the cause of the eaglet’s death is still uncertain, such a tragedy is not uncommon among eagle parents in the wild.
Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) data shows that three out of ten nesting attempts of Mindanao eagle pairs can fail even in optimal environments due to natural causes, such as sickness or accidents.
Inexperienced eagle parents breeding for the first time are also more likely to lose their young.
Not all hope is lost, though, as the team spotted the eagle parents numerous times in February and March 2020. Both eagles showed courtship behaviors, such as exchanging vocals, soaring together, and displaying their talons, with the male even attempting to mate with the female on a few occasions. These are hopeful signs that the eagle pair can still re-nest and lay a new egg.
In the meantime, the team continues to monitor the eagle pair while also preparing the site for trapping and tagging, in hopes of catching at least one of the adult eagles and using a GPS tracker to follow its range and movements in the forest.
This information can help experts pinpoint areas of Pasonanca that are hunting and breeding grounds for eagles, which can then be prioritized for stronger protection and conservation measures.
“We hope to see a new nest and track the nesting pair and their new eaglet in future expeditions. We also think that there could be three more eagle pairs in Pasonanca,” Dr. Jayson Ibañez, PEF Director for Research and Conservation, said.
“Finding these pairs, and studying and monitoring them, will be very important to eagle research and conservation in the region.”
Protecting Zamboanga’s eagles
The expedition team’s discoveries in Pasonanca underscores the urgency to protect Philippine eagles in the region and avoid a catastrophic loss of these iconic birds in the wild, especially as escalating diseases and epidemics threaten not only humans but endangered raptors, as well.
“We think these eagles may have adaptations and behaviors that are unique to their bloodlines as a result of adjusting to unique environmental conditions in the Zamboanga region,” Dr. Ibañez explained.
“The key to preventing species extinction is saving as many unique bloodlines as possible and maintaining their genetic diversity to allow eagle populations to adjust to an ever-changing world.”
Initial findings of the ongoing field study are already a clear validation of Zamboanga City’s commitment to safeguarding Pasonanca Natural Park as a protected area and a vital watershed.
Conservation measures put in place by the city government and DENR and regular patrolling and enforcement by forest guards of Zamboanga City Water District have translated to pristine forest habitats in Pasonanca that are highly favorable for nesting eagles.
For its part, USAID, through its Protect Wildlife project, supported partners in the city to enhance their plans and strategies for effectively managing Pasonanca as a protected area. The project also trained the water district’s forest guards in improved skills and practices in enforcing forestry and wildlife laws.
“Gracias a Dios y con orgullo that the Pasonanca watershed is also a habitat of the Philippine eagle.
With evidence of the presence of Philippine eagles in Zamboanga City, there is indeed hope for future generations to continue conservation and protection of our precious watershed and its vital ecosystems,” said Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco.
“Our researchers, in partnership with DENR and USAID, collaborated efforts in preparing our forest land use plan and identifying indigenous flora and fauna. We commit to harness efforts to make our natural habitats safe for God’s precious creations.”
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