“The role that the Philippine Eagle plays rightly deserves its title as the Philippine’s national bird- a symbol of unity, beauty and hope. This underscores the need to protect it for future Filipinos and the rest of the world to benefit and enjoy.” -Philippine Eagle Foundation
As I share with people our idea to have a Jeepney Eagle Art Car, I’ve come to learn that most have never heard of the Philippine Eagle. It’s no surprise since this rare, majestic bird is endemic to the Philippines. Right now, there are only about 400 pairs of the Philippine Eagle left due to destruction of their rainforest homes and illegal hunting. Jeepney Eagle Art Car’s mission is to create awareness and educate people about the plight of the Philippine national bird.
During my stay in the Philippines, I made it my priority to travel to Davao, home of The Philippine Eagle Center and Foundation. I wanted to connect with the Foundation and have a chance to see a Philippine Eagle for the first time in the flesh. Of course I lost my marbles with excitement!
Passionate and humble, Rai Gomez, the center’s education manager gave me more insight on the Philippine Eagle and their work which is focused on preservation and conservation. This raptor is the largest land animal found in Philippine forests. They grow up to three feet high with a seven foot wingspan, the broadest in the world! They play a key role in the biodiversity in the region. These eagles keep everything in check since they are one of the few predators of the area, providing order and balance to the eco-system. Without them, everything else falls apart. The eagles are losing the large space they need for survival due to illegal logging, mining, and slash and burn agriculture. They’re protected by law, but that doesn’t really prevent them from being shot down. Most hunters don’t realize they’ve aimed at an eagle until after they hit the ground, leaving them for dead because they know it means jail time and a million-peso fine. Wounded birds rarely survive as even birds with lesser injuries aren’t found in time to be helped.
Fighter, the center’s ambassador, is the exception to the rule. He was shot in the left wing and brought to the center. Unfortunately, the only way he was going to survive was to clip his wing making it impossible for him to be released back into the wild. He now serves a vital role in educating thousands of visitors at center each year. Humans need to understand the presence of a healthy eagle population means a healthy forest that helps “control soil erosion, mitigate the effects of climate change, minimize flooding, while providing additional sources of food, medicine, clothing, and shelter” for Filipinos across all the islands.
According to Rai, they have adorable and unique characteristics, each with a personality. The distinct feature they all share is the plume of wild shaggy “hair” atop their heads, which seem to have a mind of their own. They’re also the only birds with blue-grey eyes, so sharp they can see eight times better than humans. What I found most interesting is they “refocus” their eyes by bobbing their head around, as their vision works similarly to a camera lens.
Philippine Eagles are solitary animals and fiercely territorial, needing at least 7,000 hectares of space. They’ll attack and kill any eagle found encroaching in their space. Despite this, they are EXTREMELY loyal once they find their soulmate! They only have one mate in their lifetime, laying one egg at a time. It takes a couple years for their babies to grow up, but are eventually kicked out of the nest to find their own territories. The Center has spent over three decades perfecting the art of breeding, with a success rate of 27 birds born in captivity. Females are extremely picky, attacking potential mates and even killing them. (DAMN GIRL!) Since it’s so rare to see eagle behavior in the wild, the center has been through much trial and error to figure out their mating habits.
At the Center, you will only see six other Philippine Eagles. There are about 35 eagles living at the center at different stages of rehabilitation and it’s in their best interest to have as little human interaction as possible. The Foundation used to release birds back into the wild, but their chances of survival are sadly slim. For now they have no plans of releasing them after being healed, realizing they’ve been weakened by their injuries. That’s why it’s a priority to educate Filipinos about the issues that threaten the Philippine Eagle population.
To appeal to the younger generation, the Philippine Eagle Foundation has stepped up their social media game. They started the #wingslapmovement paired with a very Instagramable dance move. The wing slap is an aggressive bird behavior telling anyone in their sight to STOP and BACK OFF. The #wingslapmovement is a commitment to be an Mother Earth defender and advocate for the preservation and conservation of the Philippine Eagle. Make your pledge to the Philippine Eagle and share your very own #wingslapmovement on social media!
Want to visit the center? What I didn’t realize was how BIG The City of Davao actually is. The Philippine Eagle Center is actually quite far and I was lucky enough to have a private vehicle take me there. I wish we could find a way to raise enough money to have a dedicated shuttle service to take visitors and volunteers to and from Davao. If it was easier to access, their message could reach so many more people.
Fly to The City of Davao.
The Philippine Eagle Center is inside the Malagos Water District, located 1 hour from the city center.
You can get there a few ways:
Private Vehicle or Taxi (approx. $2000 Php)
Jeepney from Annil Terminal to Calinan, ask to be dropped off at Mercury Drug Store. ($50 Php)
Hop into a tricycle taxi and ask them to take you Malagos Water District ($20 Php)
Malagos Water District Entrance Fee:
Adults $5 Php
Children $3 Php
Philippine Eagle Center:
From the Entrance curve right and walk through the circle. You’ll see a sign for the Philippine Eagle Center
Adults $150 Php
Children 18 and under $100 Php
To learn more about the Philippine Eagle Center visit: http://philippineeaglefoundation.org/
The Center only exists through the dedication of a handful volunteers and they need our help! Donate here: http://philippineeaglefoundation.org/donate