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KALUMBATA soars across Mt Kitanglad
Jayson C. Ibanez — in Philippine Eagle Conservation    Share

“MAYA” - referring to the diminutive, non-native bird of grasslands and rice fields whose scientific (latin) name is Lonchura malacca- was the reply of a farmer when asked what the country’s national bird is (though it was, until it got replaced by the giant and native Philippine Eagle in 1995). In one of Mt. Kitanglad’s remote elementary schools, a group of kids responded with a blank stare.

In this digital age where information can be acquired with just a “click of the mouse”, one might assume all Filipinos know our national bird. But not everyone does, especially in the rural uplands where access to information is challenged by poverty and the urgency to meet basic needs.

Being poor is also the reason why protecting our Philippine Eagle, one of the world’s most endangered birds, is the least among village priorities. Sadly, a number of poor communities still see eagle conservation as a waste of precious resources that should have been spent on them. Others couldn’t care less.

Such misunderstanding and apathy results to eagles getting shot and killed and their forest habitats destroyed heedlessly, further pushing their dwindling kind towards the extinction abyss.

But there are proofs, locally and from overseas, that meeting human needs doesn’t need to be at the expense of the eagles’ welfare. Human aspirations and eagle survival doesn’t have to be exclusive. We just have to communicate this vital information across.

And that’s what the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) and Pilipinas Shell began in 2008. Together with DENR, a public education project was piloted across the Mt Kitanglad Range Natural Park within the province of Bukidnon.

Kitanglad covers about 30,000 hectares of “protected area” in seven towns and one city in central Mindanao. It is also one of few remaining habitats of the IUCN “critically endangered” Philippine Eagle. Beginning 2008, five eagles (2 captive-bred and 3 rehabilitated) were experimentally released at Kitanglad with technical and financial support from the Peregrine Fund.

Dubbed Project “KALUMBATA” (the indigenous Bukidnon name for Philippine Eagle), this initiative employed “experiential learning” techniques aimed at changing community values and attitudes from indifference to care and concern for the eagles and its rainforest home.

PEF staff facilitated education and awareness sessions with adults and kids of 28 communities across the protected area. For two years, information kits, eagle costumes, a laptop computer, a multimedia speaker, and a generator set became PEF staff’s “tools for the trade”. They did PowerPoint seminars and film shows, as well as Q & A workshops to elicit impressions and lessons learned from the participants.

To complete “experiential learning” among kids, about 10,000 students from 28 elementary schools participated in outdoor “eagle” games which they thoroughly enjoyed.

Sara Mae P. Ganoy, a sixth grader of Lupiagan Elementary School in Sumilao, Bukidnon, loved “Kalabugao Goes Hunting” and “Layers of the Rainforest”. “Nalipay ko nga nag-apil sa mga dula parehas sa pagpangita sa pagkaon sa agila og asa sila nagpuyo kauban ang uban pang mga hayop. Daghan ko og nahibaluan sa lecture og sa mga dula (I enjoyed participating in the games like searching for Philippine eagle prey items and finding the place where eagles and other forest animals live. I learned a lot from the lectures and the games)” she said during a post-campaign interview. As a proof of learning from the new experience, she promised to teach her two younger siblings not to cut forest trees and shoot birds.

Education Officer, Jo Victoria Kristy Cruz, gives lecture to the students of Licoan Elementary School in Sumilao town).

Eagles are historically rare and difficult to find, but as forests shrink because of deforestation, human encounter with the eagles becomes more frequent. Project KALUMBATA’s campaigns are meant to prevent any form of persecution either of wild-reared or released (captive-bred and rehabilitated) eagles.

For Barangay Captain Benjamin Maputi of Imbayao, Malaybalay City, the campaigns helped greatly with building community awareness about the lives and needs of the eagles and how saving their kind can help maintain healthy forests and human well being.

The stuffed eagle specimen which the education team brought as a community exhibit also enhanced people’s familiarity with the bird. “Dako kining tabang sa pagprotekta sa langgam kung adunay makaabot sa among lasang kay ilado naman kini sa mga tao (This – referring to the specimen – will help immensely with conserving any eagles that reach our forests because our people are already familiar with them)” Maputi added.

The project also facilitated workshops with village leaders to develop a Community Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan (CINRMP). This component sets the stage for a more hands-on community involvement to Philippine eagle and resource management.

Ten communities completed their plans whose environmental component included voluntary forest monitoring and reforestation of grasslands and denuded lands. As a kick-off for plan implementation, Project KALUMBATA sponsored the participation of two leaders from each of the ten villages to a reforestation seminar last December, 2010.

Project KALUMBATA also financed the travel and food costs of a volunteer lawyer handling a legal case against a hunter who shot and made a stew out of a released eagle in 2008. Special Counsel Jennifer Ramos is confident of getting the first ever conviction of an eagle killer since the 2001 Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act (RA 9147) was made into law. Aside from enforcing the law, a successful litigation is a powerful publicity that can deter wildlife crimes from happening further inside the park and elsewhere.

“It is still too early to tell how successful the KALUMBATA initiatives will be with ending deforestation and eagle killings in Mt. Kitanglad. But PEF aims to sustain adult and youth-based education, community-led eagle preservation and the monitoring of conservation outcomes for the next five years, at the very least.”

“Hopefully, this window will be adequate enough for stakeholders to act together and prevent eagle populations at Kitanglad from disappearing forever” said Dennis Salvador, PEF Executive Director.

- Jayson C. Ibanez, Philippine Eagle Foundation

Students of Basac Elementary School, participate in the well-loved game “Kalabugao Goes Hunting.”

Licensed Teacher and Project Volunteer Jan Michael Belena gives a lecture to Grade 3-6 students at Mabuhay Elementary School in Baungon Village.

Kalumbata Project Coordinator Giovanne Tampos doing an information session with the residents of Imbayao, Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, Mindanao, Philippines

View of the mountain ranges of Mount Kitanglad from the village of Lirongan in Talakag, Province of Bukidnon, Mindanao, Philippines

Sara Mae P. Ganoy, a sixth grader of Lupiagan Elementary School putting on the “eagle talon” boots (yellow) during the game “Kalabugao goes hunting (KGH)”. KGH is meant to evaluate the kids’ familiarity with eagle prey animals. It is an adaptation of the game “Maria goes to town”, but instead of market clothes, kids will wear an eagle costume. In addition, each player must take a photo of a Philippine Eagle prey item from a stack of animal photos at the “starting line” and give it to a person waiting at the other end. After all of the players have taken their turns, the number of correct photos of “prey items” is counted. The team that finished the race first with the greatest number of correct photos wins.

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