Matt Thomason, Animal Keeper at the Raptor Foundation and self confessed ‘bird nerd’, explains how the Raptor Foundation is digging its talons into the conservation of the critically endangered Philippine Eagle.
The ‘Lord of the Forest’ & ‘rarest eagle on Earth’ are both used to describe the Philippine Eagle. Although one title inspires grandeur, the other is a sad reflection of the damage humanity has done to ecosystems worldwide.
The Philippine eagle is one of the largest eagles to roam earth and endemic to the Philippines, only found on 4 of the islands. Despite their size, their flying and hunting is fast & agile, making them the dominant predator in their range hunting prey from 10g bats, 8kg macaque to 14kg deer and everything in between even using cooperative hunting on occasion which is virtually unheard of within birds of prey. Match this with piercing blue eyes, with vision 8x clearer than a human. It is an animal mythical in appearance, and majestic in reality.
There is now only an estimated 400 pairs left in the wild, making them a critically endangered species. They are also considered “the Philippines’ most evolutionary distinct and globally endangered species,” as such, I passionately believe the fall of this forest giant is something that needs to be heard.
Their decline falls to two main reasons, deforestation and shooting. Illegal logging, irresponsible use of resources and mining have resulted in a mass disappearance of the eagle and as this habitat is lost they are forced closer to human settlements which leads to inevitable persecution through shootings. Although a harsh punishment is given for the intentional death of the national bird, persecution can very easily fly under the radar, especially in remote areas.
The Raptor Foundation has been working since 1989 to provide medical care to captive & wild birds of prey, treating more than 150 wild patients a year & looking after a captive team of just under 200 birds. With the support of the Raptor Foundation I am fortunate to be in a position where we can help the Philippine eagle, a bird so close to my own heart. (I was enraptured as soon as I saw the sharp blue eyes & crown of feathers as a child.)
When I saw the mantra of the Philippine Eagle Foundation, I knew it was a charity & a cause I wanted to be a part of. The mantra itself is beautifully simple and hauntingly accurate:
“The fate of our eagle, the forests & our children’s future are inextricably linked. Saving the Philippine eagle means protecting the next generation of Filipinos.”
The Philippine Eagle Foundation is celebrating 35 years of protecting this species. They are eyeing new ambitious projects such as building a brand new facility where they can continue breeding & re-releasing these birds, but now also faces the threat of bird-flu which could spell disaster for the eagle & other bird species. The charity undertakes crucial jobs including:
- Rescue & rehab eagles & other wildlife
- Conservation breeding
- Forest restoration & a forest guard program
- Culture based conservation
- Nest monitoring
In forming a partnership between the Philippine Eagle Foundation and the Raptor Foundation we are looking to help bring the plight of this bird to a new audience, as an animal that goes fairly underrepresented in Western conservation & conversation. By helping to raise awareness we want to inspire current and future generations to save a species on the brink. By doing this we can build new links, provide vital funds, develop practices & undertake new research into understanding a bird that possesses a precious biological & cultural heritage. On 18 June the Raptor Foundation are hosting, on site, a fundraising day for the Philippine eagle & are also going to have an evening where we can directly link people here in the UK with those at the Philippine Eagle Foundation itself to talk and share the knowledge, with more exciting projects in the pipeline. We would like to help be ambassadors for the PEF charity & for the eagle to help do our part for nature not only at home but abroad.
I am proud of what we as a centre have managed to achieve so far and I am excited to really dig my talons into the conservation of this species. It is my hope that that ‘the rarest eagle in the world’ is no longer a title we have to use for the Lord of the Forest, the Philippine eagle.
By Matt Thomason, animal keeper at the Raptor Foundation
All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions.
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