By Antonio Colina IV
DAVAO CITY – Seven Philippine Eagle pairs that are kept in the breeding facility of the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) in Malagos, Baguio District are starting to display courtship rituals, giving conservationists hope to see more eggs this breeding season to increase the population of the critically endangered raptors.
Dr. Jayson C. Ibañez, PEF’s director of research and conservation, said that the breeders had observed the raptors that had been matched through natural pairing were starting to show signs of courtship rituals.
“We have seven pairs that are starting to show signs of courtship behavior, breeding behavior. We’re waiting for them to lay an egg. We’re crossing our fingers, we’re hoping that they will lay eggs,” he said.
He said the Philippine Eagles in Mindanao lay eggs between September and November while those in the forests of Luzon have a different breeding pattern and their laying season starts usually in December as an adaptation to the impact of typhoons.
Compared to eagles in the wild which breed once every two years, Ibañez said the Philippine Eagle Center’s conservation breeding program allows Eagles to breed every year, increasing their chances of producing more offspring that the foundation hopes to release in the wild to augment their population or will remain in the facility for breeding purposes.
The center is refining its techniques to help reproduce more offspring, according to Ibañez.
The natural pairing is done by placing the Eagles in an enclosure with a partition screen that allows them to see each other and to prevent any physical harm, according to Dominic Tadena, a senior bird keeper at the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF).
Once the pairing attempt is successful, the pair would be “placed in a larger enclosure to prepare them for breeding.” This process is successful when eagles would be seen perched close to each other, show no sign of aggression between the raptors, exhibit courtship rituals such as the male giving food to the female eagle, and build nests, Tadena said.
The PEF also utilizes the cooperative artificial insemination breeding program. Keepers, as “human surrogate mate,” will copulate with the male eagle, collect the semen with sterilized gloves, and store in a test tube that will be administered to the female eagle by another keeper for insemination, he said.
He said this process is tricky as both eagles must be stimulated first.
Ibañez said the center was trying to provide a “natural environment as possible” for the captive-bred eagles.
He said three captive-bred eagles had been released but “unfortunately all of them did not survive in the wild.”
“What’s working for us is we still have pairs in the wild that we can take care of. Maybe, at a certain point, hindi na natin kailangan ng (we may no longer need) conservation breeding. What’s really promising, we still have several pairs, wild pairs that we can really take care of and then they can keep the population going,” he said.
He said the foundation monitored 37 Philippine eagle pairs in Mindanao. But he estimated that at least half of the 400 remaining pairs in the country are found in Mindanao.
Mindanao is the “stronghold of the species,” Ibañez said. Nesting sites are found in Davao Region, Sarangani Province, North Cotabato, Bukidnon, Misamis Occidental, and Misamis Oriental.
“Practically in every forest that’s left in Mindanao, you have them,” he said.
He said the forests should be protected as the Eagles “are very loyal to the place where they breed.”
“It’s used across generations. As shown in the film, one of the oldest nesting sites is found in Mt. Apo. It’s been first discovered in 1972 until now we still have a pair. It means, eagles still use them across generations, different pairs as long as it’s intact, as long as it’s healthy, eagles will use it. It’s very important for reproduction. That’s why we are trying to save nesting sites,” he said.
The center has 32 eagles, including Geothermica and Sambisig, the pair which had been sent to Jurong Bird Park of Wildlife Reserves Singapore last June 4 as part of the loan program agreement to save the genetic stock of the Philippine eagles.
“Last breeding season, we monitored eight young eagles flying off successfully from their nest (in the wild). This is the highest number of eaglet last year,” he said, adding that this development offers a “beacon of hope because it means our eagles are breeding well if you give them the chance to breed.”
He said PEF has forest guards who protect the eagles in the wild.
“We really think that forest guarding is an important thing to ensure the safety of our birds, especially if this translates to clear income. Yun ang bottom line. They have needs as well like everyone else,” he said
“We’re finding out as long as you give them opportunity to be empowered to have a strong sense of ownership, meaning they consider the eagles as theirs, and then help them achieve aspirations including jobs, including education for their kids, including water systems, social services. If you invest on bringing in social services in return for clear conservation work, they would really take care of the birds,” he said.