On the lush tropical island of Mindanao, in the Philippines, Domingo Tadena kept a sharp eye on the huge Philippine Monkey-eating Eagle that was perched 40 feet above him. And the sharp-eyed eagle followed Tadena's every move. The instant Tadena turned his head and broke eye contact, the eagle dropped like a stone and slammed, talons first, into the back of Tadena's head. With extraordinary strength, the eagle's dagger-like talons wrapped around and punctured the man's face.
Tadena, on the ground with the great eagle gripping his entire head, cried out for help and two of his assistants rushed in to save him. The eagle refused to release its iron grip. One assistant used a pair of pliers to pry the talons out of Tadena's flesh but the eagle was too strong. The men tried with both hands to pull open the eagle's grip, again to no avail. Finally, one man ran to get some limb loppers to cut the toes off the eagle's feet.
Face down in the dirt, the world's largest eagle tearing his head open, Tadena had the courage and dedication to forbid using the limb loppers. He could barely talk or see but he told his men to try one last trick-throw a cloth over the eagle's head and blind it. Unable to see, the eagle relaxed its grip and remained motionless. Tadena was dragged to safety and hauled to the nearest hospital some 40 miles away where he put in for days of repairs and recuperation.
Why, you may ask, did the eagle attack Tadena? What is the relationship between the eagle and the men?
Actually, it is a story of hope. A
story of a magnificent bird on the brink of extinction and of the people who are dedicated to preserving it.
The great Philippine Monkey-eating Eagle Pitbecopbaga jefferyi is one of the largest eagles in the world and is endemic to the Philippine Islands. Much of the Philippines are naturally covered with tropical jungle growth typical of south east Asia. The rain forests are vast, often mountainous and very rugged. Eagles are fiercely territorial, each pair claiming huge tracts of forest as their exclusive hunting grounds. They rarely soar above the canopy. When hunting, they fly silently through the forest from one lookout perch to another. The eagle's preferred food is medium-sized mammals such as monkeys, squirrels and flying lemurs. They will take large birds when they can catch them, and the natives claim the eagle takes pigs.
The eagles nest in huge old trees often 150 feet high where they construct nests five or six feet across. They lay just one egg which is incubated by hath parents hut with the female assuming about 70% of the chore. The chick hatches in about 60 days and takes about five weeks to stand in the nest. It will leave the nest in about three and a half months hut may remain dependent upon its parents for several years. These eagles are obviously slow growing, slow to mature, and slow about raising a family. With good luck, a pair might raise one baby per year. Actually, at the end of 1995 there were only four known active nests and no documented wild babies raised during 1993, 1994 or 1995.
In 1982, ornithologist Robert Kennedy, studying the birds of the Philippines, estimated the eagle's population on Mindanao to be around 300-500 individuals. By the end of 1994, only 67 eagles could be accounted for on Mindanao and just seven more on other islands. Obviously, when an entire species has no more
than 7 4 known memhers (numhers vary as when an new hird is spotted or when a hird or two disappears), it is in serious trouhle perhaps to the point of no recovery.
But the Filipino people are rallying to save their national hird. As with the California Condor, captive propagation was deemed a necessary tool in a desperate attempt to head off the the eagle's imminent extinction. To carry out this daunting task, the Philippine Eagle Foundation, Inc. (PEFI) was created in 1987. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the endangered Philippine Eagle and its rain forest habitat. It is staffed by very skilled, highly trained professionals who are personally dedicated to the conservation of the country's raptors and to the management of wildlife habitats.
The ultimate goal is twofold: to preserve enough primordial habitat to sustain a wild population of the eagles, and to increase the number of eagles through captive breeding techniques. These efforts work hand in hand. The hope is to eventually release captive hred eagles into safe habitats and once again populate the remote rain forest with its most majestic hird. Of course, captive bred birds are not substitutes for wild birds. They are meant to support the wild populations. And the goals are long range, extending well into the next century.
The Philippine Eagle Foundation, Inc. has the rare good judgment to recognize that the eagle's habitat is being penetrated by a growing population of slash-and hum subsistence farmers. The farmers' plight leaves no room for concern about the status of some wild bird. Indeed, if a farmer could catch a bird (endangered or not) he would gladly feed it to his children-just to survive.
To ease this situation, PEFI has begun work with the hill people in the areas where the eagle is found. Staff members live and work with the local people and help organize them, train them, and provide them with tools and equipment to make a living. The goal is to enhance the local farmers' capability to sustain themselves with a minimum impact on the ecosystem.