Rare eagle takes flight in Philippines

The first Philippine eagle born in captivity flew into conservation history books on Thursday when it was released into the wild, raising hopes for the future of one of the world’s most endangered birds.

The bird, a 15-month-old male eagle named Kabayan, was released from his cage at the Mount Apo nature reserve on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, flying to a nearby tree where it sat examining its new habitat.

Kabayan is one of 14 Philippine eagles—one of the world’s largest bird species—which have been successfully bred in captivity at the Philippine Eagle Centre just outside the island’s Davao City.

A month ago he was transported to his new home at Mount Apo, the country’s highest peak, which is part of a 75 000ha national park and sanctuary to the Philippine eagle and other wildlife.

The breeding programme began in 1992 by the Philippine Eagle Foundation, which started in 1987 as a non-profit organisation whose main aim was to try and preserve the dwindling eagle numbers through a captive breeding programme.

Like the American bald eagle, the Philippine eagle has become the national symbol of its country.

Mindanao is thought to be one of only three islands where the eagle, which has a wing span of up to 2,4m and takes six to seven years to mature, is known to exist.

Much of its natural forest habitat has been destroyed through war, logging or tree clearance to make way for agriculture.

Foundation executive director Dennis Salvador said he was delighted with the release, adding that the latest in technology will enable the centre to keep track of the young eagle.

Apart from an identity band fitted to his leg, the eagle is carrying a microchip implant and a satellite transmitter.

“It really is an historic moment for this country,” Salvador said. “The release today on Earth Day is, I believe, is a first for the Philippines. This is the first time an eagle has been born in captivity and released into the wild.”

Salvador said no one knows exactly how many Philippine eagles still exist in the wild.

“The guess is about 500 pairs. But every day their natural habitat is getting smaller and smaller,” he said.

He said the aim of the project is to develop a viable gene pool “so we can release offspring back into the wild to help complement the wild population”.

American businessman Marsh Thomson, vice-chairperson of the Foundation, said Thursday’s release marked a major success.

“It hasn’t been easy and there have been a number of problems with the programme in the past. But I knew we had something here that was good and now we see the result—fantastic.”—Sapa-AFP

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