Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu on Monday led the signing of the agreement between the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) over the loan and conservation of a pair of critically endangered Philippine eagle, the country’s national bird and crown jewel of biodiversity.
Cimatu said the two raptors—Geothermica and Sambisig—will play a crucial role as ambassadors for Philippine biodiversity once they are brought on June 4 to Jurong Bird Park operated by WRS.
“The Philippine eagle is a critically-endangered species. As such, it is an ideal ambassador of Philippine biodiversity, perfect for the purpose of generating awareness on the urgent need for conservation,” Cimatu said during the signing ceremony of the wildlife loan agreement (WLA) with WRS held at the DENR central office in Quezon City.
It marked the first time the Philippines, through the DENR, entered into an agreement of its kind with a foreign institution.
With the accord, Cimatu said the DENR aims to stimulate international support for an in-situ conservation program for the Philippine eagle, along with a biosecurity measure against risks arising from catastrophic events such as disease outbreaks.
“Sending Geothermica and Sambisig to Singapore acts as a biosecurity measure to ensure the survival of the species and as a fallback population in the event of catastrophic events like disease outbreaks or extreme natural calamities taking place in their Philippine habitats,” Cimatu pointed out.
Both Geothermica and Sambisig, aged 15 and 17 years old, respectively, are products of the conservation breeding program of the Philippine Eagle Center based in Davao City.
The signing of the DENR-WRS deal was the highlight of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Philippines-Singapore Friendship Day. It also came two days before the observance of the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22.
Cimatu said the DENR was honored to be part of the celebration by loaning the Philippine eagle, which he described as the “crown jewel of the Philippine biodiversity, an integral part of the rich Filipino heritage.”
“As our national bird, it (Philippine eagle) embodies our aspiration to soar high as a nation,” he added.
Cimatu said that Geothermica and Sambisig will be on loan to WRS—one of the world’s leading zoological institutions—and in their new home in a realistic setting at the 20.2-hectare Jurong Bird Park, Asia’s largest bird park that is home to close to 3,500 birds across 400 species, of which 20 percent is threatened.
The loan wildlife agreement involving the pair of Philippine eagle was facilitated by the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau led by Director Crisanta Marlene Rodriguez.
Under the agreement, the DENR commits to send the raptors to Singapore, issueor make the necessary representation with concerned government agencies to facilitate the issuance of necessary permits for the transportation, export and/or shipment of the birds to the facility of WRS and monitor the birds annually.
The WRS, on the other hand, assumes full responsibility in ensuring the proper care, handling, maintenance and security of the loaned Philippine eaglesin its facility; recognizes and commits that the loaned Philippine eagles and their ensuring progenies, including their genetic materials and any derivatives, if any, remain the sole property of the Republic of the Philippines; and submits annual report on the status of the loaned birds and activities undertaken, including research findings and other project-related developments.
For his part, Dr. Cheng Wen-Haur, deputy chief executive officer and chief life sciences officer of WRS, expressed his gratitude in the Philippine government for trusting their institution in taking care of the two raptors.
“We are honored by the trust that the Philippine government has placed in us to care for the country’s national bird. As a conservation-minded wildlife organization, there is a strong synergy between our focus on protecting animals—particularly threatened Southeast Asian species—and the Philippine Eagle Foundation’s mission to promote the survival of a truly majestic raptor and the biodiversity it represents,” Wen-Haur said.
“Together, we can actively contribute in a greater capacity to raise awareness of the threats that the wild cousins of these Eagles face in the wild, even as we continue the work of breeding to fight extinction,” he added.
Last year, the DENR issued Memorandum Circular 2018-04 which lays down the protocol that allows the keeping of captive populations of the Philippine eagle in qualified institutions for conservation, scientific research and public education.
Known as the largest of the extant eagles in the world in terms of length and wing surface, the Philippine eagle is listed as a “critically endangered” raptor in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List and the country’s National List of Threatened Species under DENR Administrative Order 2004-15.
Wild populations of the species throughout the archipelago remains precarious with an estimated number of less than 400 pairs. Hunting and loss of forest habitat remain the primary threats to its survival.
Because of its small population, Rodriguez said the Philippine eagle is vulnerable to impacts of environmental conditions such as natural calamities and outbreak of disease.
“Diseases, in particular avian influenza, are increasingly recognized as a significant risk factor that can affect both wild and captive populations of the Philippine eagle,” the BMB chief said.
According to Cimatu, the DENR considers the Philippine eagle as among its priority threatened species for conservation.
“Being an iconic species and one requiring vast forest as habitat, the conservation of the Philippine eagle continue to be one of the rallying point in setting aside the remaining forest areas of this country as protected area,” Cimatu said.
The DENR Secretary also cited the important role played by thePhilippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), which is the DENR’s primary partner in the conservation of the national bird.
From 1992 to 2016, Cimatu said the PEF has produced 28 captive-bred eagles at the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City, including Geothermica and Sambisig. (DENR PR)