By Tien Oriana
“Andun sa kabila!” (“It’s on the other side!”)
One of our guides didn’t even get to finish his sentence when everyone in our birding sortie started moving. Faster than a blink of an eye, we left our original spot to look for Pamarayeg III, the recently fledged Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) from the pair that took territory at the Kitanglad Mountain Range in Bukidnon.
We ran through the trail. The sound of the fast rustling of plants surrounded us. Adrenaline filled the air. It began to drizzle but it didn’t matter. Hours of waiting and multiple leech bites were all forgotten. We reached the spot; hiking gear were dropped. We positioned ourselves, readied our binoculars and cameras and–
The rain fell softly in slow motion and served as the foreground of a majestic sighting. I only first saw its clean white belly and the wind-swept dark brown feathers on its back. My eyes welled with tears. The head was still out of view behind leaves as it called with its distinct sound. When it finished the last notes, it turned its head. At the full sight of this haring ibon, I no longer knew if the sides of my face were wet with tears or with rain (probably both).
To see the bird of the Philippines in its natural habitat, freely reigning over its territory, is a dream come true. It is an answered prayer. But Pamarayeg III tells us of a prayer that has yet to be answered. Its name in Binisaya means a humble plea, a fervent prayer. A very appropriate name for a critically endangered species. But it is also ironic for a king to beg for a kingdom to reign over.
Threatened by deforestation and shooting, it is estimated that there are only 400 pairs of the Philippine Eagle in the wild. Each pair only lays an egg every 2 years as it waits for its offspring to mature before producing the next*. At about six months of age, Pamarayeg III has already overcome this kind of adversity but there is much more to come. This includes finding its needed 4,000 to 11,000 hectares of forest land to thrive. The Kitanglad Guard Volunteers (KGVs) have been doing great service being guardians of the Kitanglad forests. But this is only a part of the conservation efforts critical for the eagle’s survival. More has to be done. Otherwise, both the country and the world loses a natural treasure, a biological heritage that can be found nowhere else.
My prayer has been answered to witness this rarity in the wild. But I continuously pray for such an experience to no longer be rare.
Interested in helping the Philippine Eagle? Head on to the Philippine Eagle Foundation website to learn more on how you can get involved.
* Reference: Philippine Eagle Foundation, https://www.philippineeaglefoundation.org/philippine-eagle