Philippine Eagle Foundation executive director Dennis Salvador unveiled a plan to loan out Philippine eagles abroad as a safety net to protect the population of the endangered birds should “catastrophic events” occur in the country.
Salvador told MindaNews Tuesday that this is technically a breeding loan program that would allow the host country to “keep and breed” the Philippine eagles to “protect the gene pool against the potential catastrophic events such as natural calamities or disease outbreaks” that can potentially wipe out their population in the wild.
He said they are hoping the plan will be approved by Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who has copies of the necessary documents that included an initial “risk management” proposal submitted four years ago.
“The issue raised has been with [Secretary] Cimatu. The papers are now at the secretary’s desk and hopefully we can move forward before, God forbid, bird flu reaches us here,” Salvador said.
Through the program, Salvador said the Philippines can rebuild the population of the critically endangered Philippine eagles, a “giant forest raptor endemic to the Philippines”, said to be “one of the three largest and most powerful eagles in the world”.
On the Philippine eagles’ adaptive capacity, Salvador explained: “Climatic conditions and ability to mimic local conditions will necessarily be a part of pre-conditions” in the selection of host countries”.
The PEF houses 35 eagles, he said.
Salvador said they have already intensified the biosecurity measures at the center and limit unnecessary human contact with the birds to prevent them from getting infected with bird flu.
“The influx of birds in the country, the need has been doubled in protecting what we have here. As you know, the center is surrounded by poultry farms. Bird flu, once it gets a certain area, one-kilometer radius is kill zone. Very dangerous. What we have in the center represents five percent of the entire Philippine eagles,” he said.
The PEF temporarily closed its center from August 15 to 16 following an outbreak of the H5 strain of avian influenza in Pampanga that poses a “grave threat to the Philippine eagle population.”
The closure was necessary to allow their team to set up necessary emergency measures to ensure the safety of the Philippine eagles and other raptors in the facility. The center reopened on August 17.
Salvador said they are wary of the outbreak because poultry farms surround the center.
Dr. Dannie Apelo, spokesperson on the avian flu for the Department of Agriculture in Davao Region, said all chickens within one-kilometer radius from the point of infection will be exterminated.
Salvador said PEF will host the 10th Asian Raptor Research and Conservation Network (ARRCN) International Symposium, a biennial event, from October 18 to 22 at the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU).
He said the experts would present the various conservation efforts like research and monitoring activities.
Salvador said 14 countries have confirmed participation in the conference that highlights “how support to community-based actions can result to healthy people-raptor relationships”.
He said the four-day gathering aims to promote raptor conservation and determine link between raptors and local communities to encourage appreciation and protection of raptor species.
Salvador acknowledged the need to up the ante in the preservation and conservation of raptors, the “birds of prey”, amid the emerging dangers that threaten their population in the wild.
“Unfortunately, people’s attitudes towards raptors are not always positive. In northern Philippines, for example, hundreds of migrating Grey-faced buzzards are slaughtered for food at their roost sites,” he said.
He said the foundation’s progress in protecting the eagles can be attributed to the joint undertakings with the local communities across the country, by taking a “comprehensive approach to conservation, engaging in research, community-based efforts for on-site protection, and public education” to save the Philippines eagles and its habitat. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)