It’s not everyday you encounter a species close to extinction.
But, when I first saw the shot below, I didn’t know what I was looking at exactly.
What do you think?
In case you’re unsure of what you’re seeing like I was, that’s a monkey being carried away on its ass by a bird.
More specifically, it shows the critically endangered Philippine Eagle returning from a hunt with a Long Tailed Macaque securely (and awkwardly) in its talons. The photo was taken by conservation biologist Kahlil Panopio from the Haribon Foundation during a research expedition in Nueva Ecija last May 2014.
When I asked Kahlil how he felt after that moment he said:
“I was shaking with excitement when I saw what I had taken a picture of. No one has ever seen it here in over 36 years.”
I found out later that Kahlil had even more reason to have a celebratory shiver because…
The monkey-ass bit isn’t even the most interesting thing about the photograph.
After all, they used to be called Monkey-Eating Eagles.
Turns out, finding a Philippine Eagle in Luzon is already pretty hard to do.
“Their lives, breeding pattern, and feeding habits in Luzon are virtually unknown. Most of what we know about them came from studies in Mindanao. Its scary to think of what knowledge we would’ve lost if someone with a gun spotted it before us.”
Not being a biologist, I wondered how the hell can you tell from a grainy over-cropped picture that it really is a Philippine Eagle?
Thankfully, Kahlil pointed out a number of useful identifiers for us (which I may be paraphrasing here):
- No other predatory birds (known as raptors) found in the area have the balls to feed on anything that size
- The enormous size of the head and beak is unique, along with its white chest, belly, and wings. These are probably used to trick monkeys into thinking that they’re harmless feathery clouds before tearing their flesh apart.
- See photo below
This time, you can clearly see its distinctive markings and even a bit of its face. This was shot taken when they followed it up the mountain.
If you’re still not convinced, it gets better:
That’s a juvenile Philippine Eagle whose stomach I presume is now full of monkey.
It was the third to be spotted by the team after a week into the expedition. Not bad for a previously unstudied location.
Scratch that, it’s absolutely staggering that a whole family was found in the wild, considering their critically endangered status and the sad condition of forests and nature today.
Just so you know (because I didn’t), there’s a chance of practically dying out within 10 years once you’re classified as critically endangered.
Why are they so close to extinction?
Because a pair of Philippine Eagles (and their chick) needs around 100,000 square kilometers of a healthy nurturing environment to survive. That’s 157 times the size of Manila, which isn’t really nourishing anyway.
Sitting on top of the local food chain of bad-assery, the Philippine Eagle is our answer to grizzly bears, great white sharks, and Clint Eastwood. However, this also means that its survival is completely dependent on the ability of the organisms below it to form a functioning ecosystem.
I think I just realized the reason why its local name is Haring Ibon: it literally runs a kingdom.
Actually, they’re more like supervisors: they’re there to keep the lower caste working class population in check.
The problem is, we only have 3% of our primary forests left.
“There might be only be as few as 250 left in the wild. The rapid destruction of forests in the Philippines is driving them to extinction. If we don’t protect the little forest area we have and allow it to grow, then that’s it for them.”
Planting trees helps a lot to prevent that from happening, but as I’ve learned, first make sure you know how to do it the right way, unless you want to do nature more harm than good.
The good news is, this sighting has resulted in the barangay captains, municipal mayors, and the indigenous Dumagat of the surrounding areas implementing rules to guard the mountain from loggers and hunters.
Together with Haribon and the Raptor Conservation Program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, these groups are creating a plan on how to utilize the forest – without destroying it in the process.
So what does finding the eagle mean?
The Philippine Eagle is part of our national heritage, but it’s not just being saved for its own sake. Even if it is so damn handsome.
Kahlil sums it up much better than I can:
“If we can keep their habitat healthy, then we’ll also be helping everything else that relies on forests for food, clean air, fresh water, and protection from natural disasters to survive. That includes us people.”
In other words, safe the eagle, save the world. Or the Philippines at least.
Discover what it took Kahlil to capture the photos I used for this post by clicking here to read his day by day account of the original expedition.
Do you think that the Philippine Eagle is still important today?
Bonus: Philippine Eagles kinda look like Nicolas Cage. I’m not kidding. See it for yourself here.
This post was written by volunteer nature lovers. If you think it was helpful, please consider sharing it on Facebook and Twitter to help raise awareness about the Philippine environment. You can also sign up with your email at the bottom of this page so you can be notified when new stories are sent in.