Philippine eagle rehabilitation and release: a case succeeds
Jayson C. Ibanez— 20 May 2010 — in Philippine Eagle Conservation Share
Sick, dehydrated, starving. These gloomy images entered conversations at the Philippine Eagle Center whenever office staff asked for updates about Kalabugao, a young female eagle released inside Mount Kitanglad Natural Park in Bukidnon in October 2009. For several months, the field crew did not see the eagle in the wild.
Equipped with radio-tracking gadgets, field staff trekked along forest ridges to look for Kalabugao and see how she was faring at Kitanglad. But searching thick forests over steep terrains is anything one can imagine except easy. Crew members felt they were searching for a “needle in a pile of hay.”
Satellite and radio tracking devices suggested she had been moving around the forests actively. But still, office staff couldn’t help but feel a bit anxious. We already lost an eagle to hunting in 2008. Then, another bird in 2009. Losing Kalabugao too would certainly be very devastating for everyone.
Is she adjusting well to life in the wild? She never took any of the food animals placed close to her likely location. What if she is finding it hard to hunt? We were desperately hoping for a message that the field team had finally found her and that she was 100% OK.
Luckily, on the morning of February 16, 2010, we got the news we had been yearning for.
Our anxieties totally vanished. I could sense Giovanni’s pleasure as he narrated in vivid detail what he was witnessing through his telescope. “Wing, tail and body feathers clean and orderly ... crop (bird stomach) bulging with food...looks very alert and healthy ...this is all very exciting” went the text message.
Office staff shared his thrill, most especially when we came to the exciting conclusion. After taking in the fact that she has actively moved around the mountain, took none of the supplementary food animals, and is alert and healthy, we knew that the rehabilitation and release of Kalabugao was a big success. Fit and actively hunting, she has undoubtedly regained her ability to survive in the wild.
The success of Kalabugao’s rescue, rehabilitation and reintroduction was a combination of expertise, cooperation and commitment at work.
Two years ago, Kalabugao was still an eaglet. Members of a biker’s club from Cagayan de Oro City who were mountain biking in Impasug-ong town alerted authorities about a captive eaglet. Starving, untidy and dehydrated, the young bird was rescued from a small hut in Kalabugao village in March 2008. An x-ray later showed she had a broken collar bone.
At the Philippine Eagle Center, she was medicated, treated from her trauma, and slowly rehabilitated. When results became promising, we worked on permits and readied her for re-introduction back to the wild.
For a little over a month, she was caged at the heart of Kitanglad to slowly reintroduce her to a new forest home. After release, two teams of PEF biologists, park guards and volunteers took turns monitoring her movements.
Since the day Kalabugao was first seen out of her cage, field crew journals have been filled with detailed and mostly new information about her food and behavior in the wild.
She has been actively interacting with other animals. Large-billed crows have mobbed her repeatedly, as well as Tarictic hornbills, Brahminy kites, and Serpent eagles.
A few times, she was confronted by the largest male leader of a monkey troop. The alpha male would vigorously shake the branch upon which Kalabugao was standing while throwing loud grunts at her. Often, she just ignored the poor animal until the primate gave up and retreated.
Along with information from other eagles we have tracked and studied, these important data will be used to improve ways of saving our critically endangered national bird from extinction.
On May 4, Kalabugao was recaptured to replace her battery-dead satellite transmitter. PEF veterinarian Ana Lascano sent word that the eagle remains alert and very healthy. We will continue to track her until she finds a partner, settles in her own territory and breeds.
The release of Kalabugao was largely funded by the Peregrine Fund. Unifrutti Phils. provided supplementary funding. Flamingo Flocking charity of Houston Zoo donated Kalabugao’s radio transmitter.
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