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Zamboanga del Norte execs mull over measure to protect eagle’s habitat

/ 05:49 PM September 24, 2013

Philippine Eagle. EDDIE JUNTILLA/PHILIPPINE EAGLE

ILIGAN CITY, Lanao del Norte, Philippines—Environment officials in Zamboanga del Norte are eyeing the declaration of a mountain range in that province as a protected area after two rare Philippine eagles were observed mating there on Sept. 9.

Such a declaration would ensure the protection and safety of the eagles, said lawyer Liza Jane Estaño, chief of the Zamboanga del Norte Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO), in a news release.

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The pair of eagles was recently sighted in the Linay mountain range in the municipality of Baliguian, a five-hour drive southwest from the provincial capital, Dipolog City.

“The birds were found mating in a forested area that can be reached after a three-hour hike from the town center,” Estaño said.

The Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is a critically endangered species endemic to the tropical forests of the country. Its population has severely declined due to massive deforestation and hunting, according the Philippine Eagle Foundation based in Davao City.

In 1995, President Fidel Ramos declared the Philippine eagle a protected species. The Philippine Wildlife Act has since provided measures aimed at protecting the remaining eagle population as well as other wildlife species.

Estaño said they were also pushing for the provincial legislative board to declare the Linay mountain range “Eagle National Park of Zamboanga del Norte” to pump-prime the rehabilitation and development of its natural ecology “for the sake of the pair of eagles and other rare and endangered species found therein.”

The Linay mountain range hosts a lush forest that has withstood the onslaught of logging in the area since the 1960s.

Estaño added that apart from the Philippine eagle, there have also been sightings of tarsiers, wild pigs, and squirrels in the Linay forests.

The presence of the eagles in Baliguian was reported to the authorities by Linay village councilman and farmer Fernando Mendoza Sr., who claimed to have first seen the eagles in 2003, said Estaño. Linay locals have since named one of the eagles Fernando.

Based on Mendoza’s account, the pair managed to produce an eaglet that he no longer saw several years after.

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Mendoza, along with his son Fernando Jr., guided a team of six people who documented the eagle sighting in the area.

Apart from Estaño, the group also included Al Caabay of the Regional Eagle Watch Team of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources  in western Mindanao; Levy Lagutin and Von Basil Lambo of PEMO; and local photojournalists Sammy Amatong and Dave Magdayao.

“Early morning of Sept. 9, we waited for the eagles to emerge from the canopy of trees. After three hours, lo and behold, one of the eagles glided toward a fallen tree, then joined shortly by the other one,” Amatong told the Inquirer by phone.

Amatong said it was his first experience seeing more closely the Philippine eagle in the wild.

Using binoculars, the team also traced the eagles toward their nest. And judging from their behavior that day, the team supposed that the eagles were mating, said Estaño.

Amatong related that during their day-long watch of the eagles, they were treated to varying “magnificent sights” of the eagles in flight. These included “aerial courtship display” over a forested ridge; a “mutual soaring display”; and “flight of romance” before they flew back to the tree where they nested.

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TAGS: Dipolog City, Liza Jane Estaño, mountain range, PEMO, Philippine Eagle, Philippine Eagle Foundation, Philippine eagles, Pithecophaga jefferyi, Provincial Environment Management Office, The Philippine Wildlife Act, Zamboanga del Norte
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