Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 109 – The Philippine Eagle


Philippine Eagle Center (PEC) on the outskirts of Davao City

“To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival”
Wendell Berry

Philippine eagleI always think of the mythical Phoenix when I see this beautiful and critically endangered bird. Not in as much as its story has any real bearing on the bird of the mythologies of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, et cetera – though it would be marvellous if numbers could rise anew from the kaingin ashes – but because its stunning, elongated crest feathers, resembling a war-like headdress, its huge wings and its long tail more-or-less fulfil my visual expectations of the legendary, sacred firebird.

But the majestic Philippine eagle is far from mythical, although in some parts it may seem so. Formerly known as the monkey-eating eagle, it was once abundant in the Philippines. Now it exists on only four of the Philippine islands: Luzon in the north, Mindanao in the south (where most of the birds are found) and Leyte in the Eastern Visayas. A recent rare sighting has also been made on Samar, again in the Eastern Visayas, bringing fresh hope to the islanders who had thought the species to be all but extirpated in their locality.

Philippine eagle, Mount Apo, Mindanao by Andre HoffmannIt is easy to see why the Filipinos are so proud of the eagle. This impressive raptor is one of the world’s largest birds of prey. Its seven-foot wingspan and long tail serve it well as a skilful hunter; swooping low with great agility and speed, and manoeuvring gracefully through the dense, tangled foliage of the rainforest. Civets and flying lemurs (which are not true lemurs, incidentally – those are only found in Madagascar) are its first choice of prey, and they are able to catch these with consummate ease. Unfortunately, such skills are no longer used as much as they were, since their prey, along with their habitat, is fast disappearing and they are struggling to survive. Vast tracts of tropical forest on the islands have been cleared and any further forest loss within their range must be prevented if the species is to have any future.

deforestationIncessant, needless deforestation by commercial logging, agriculture, settlement and open-pit mining has hastened the Philippine eagle along the path of extinction. Over ninety percent of its forest habitat has already been destroyed, hampering its chances of survival and making it the most exploited and most endangered avian species on earth.

The Philippine eagle has been aggressively hunted for food, shot as trophies and persecuted by local farmers in the belief their chickens are vulnerable to capture. Juveniles have been poached for zoos and other illegal wildlife trade markets, catering for private and public greed and display. Precious eggs have been stolen and sold for a high price on the black market. And to add to all that, the uncontrolled and widespread use of pesticides has brought about further fatalities amongst the populations and may have had an effect on reproductive output, which, at best, is extremely slow.

Flash flood caused partly by illegal logging near Iligan CityAnd let’s not forget the series of cataclysmic floods and mud slides which have occurred over the past few decades, and which have affected both human and non-human species. Whether or not such ‘natural’ disasters can be totally attributed to deforestation and mining in the islands is debatable. But clearly such actions have contributed enormously to the catastrophic effect, and the environment and its biodiversity has been irretrievably altered by them.

That is not to say, help is not being given. A great many Filipinos are working hard to prevent the loss of their eagle. These birds are endemic to the Philippines and are part of the nation’s cultural heritage.

Phillippine Eagle by Nigel VoadenConservation plans to protect the eagles are already in place and laws have been passed prohibiting hunting and protecting nests. Awareness is being raised and educational lectures are being given by the Philippine Eagle Foundation, in the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City, Mindanao, to all visitors.

Whereas killing a Philippine eagle carries a relatively severe punishment, deaths are still occurring. Several captive eagles, which had been released back into the wild, have regrettably been found dead. Some had been shot, and, in one case, the cause of death unknown, only the feet were found buried in the ground.

Sadly, the magnificent Philippine eagle is a very easy target for malefactors. Weighing anything up to eighteen pounds, being well over three feet long and having a wingspan of between six and seven feet, this is one very large and conspicuous bird.

Philippine eagle The crown and crest of the bird is a pale caramelly-brown with black flashes. The large bill is blue to grey. The top of the body is covered with long, deep-brown feathers with pale tips and the undersides and chest are creamy-white. The tail is brown with darker bars and a white edge, and the feet are heavy and noticeably yellow. Needless to say, it has extremely powerful talons, perfectly adapted to its own hunting techniques.

Hunting in pairs, they operate as a duo. One bird will act as a decoy, while the other swoops in to attack. They are, in fact, opportunists and will often prey upon whatever they see first, although they do prefer prey living high in the trees, and the double-act can work well when spotting a group of monkeys.

Phillippine eagles on nestPairs seem to be a bit of thing for these birds. They are monogamous and will pair for life. Unless one dies, in which case the surviving eagle will find another mate. These pairs will nest once every two years. The breeding season is very much dependent on the location. When the time for egg laying approaches, the female becomes sickly and refuses food. This can last for up to ten days. At the same time she will drink a lot of water and make a lot of loud calls. Her wings become droopy and she begins to look altogether rather seedy. The name for this condition is “egg lethargy”.

Philippine eagle At this point nest-building begins. A single egg will be laid in the finished nest. There is an incubation period of up to sixty-eight days. Both parents will help with the incubation of the egg, but the female will take most of the day-time shift. Following successful incubation, the newly hatched chick will remain in the nest for up to five and a half months before taking its first flight. It will not leave its parents at this point, and will remain in their care for a further twelve months.

From the time the pair first come together to the time the juveniles leave the parental territory, a period of two years will have lapsed. This illustrates further the Philippine juvenile eagle leaving the nest by Mark Wilsonproblems these eagles are facing in trying to replenish their numbers in the wild.

Sadly, there is also a very high mortality rate amongst young chicks, but for those who do survive, a long life can be expected. Philippine eagles have been recorded as living up to forty-one years in captivity, though, as with other species, their life expectancy in the wild will be less.

A few extra thoughts…
John Whitehead, a British naturalist and explorer, was the first person to collect a specimen of the bird whilst visiting the island of Samar in 1896. After being told by the locals of Samar its diet consisted exclusively of monkeys, he named it first “Pithecophaga”, derived from the Greek “pithecus” meaning ape or monkey and “phagus” meaning eater of. The second name he chose, “jefferyi”, was in honour of his father who had backed all his expeditions.

For decades Pithecophaga jefferyi continued to be commonly known as the monkey-eating eagle. In 1978, during the “Marcos Dynasty”, a presidential proclamation declared by President Ferdinand E. Marcos renamed it the Philippine eagle. In 1995, a further proclamation was issued by President Fidel V. Ramos declaring the Philippine eagle the national bird, automatically replacing its predecessor, the maya.

Current distribution of Philippine eaglesNatural Habitat
Remnant patches of mountainous and lowland forest.
Where
The islands of Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao. The majority can be found on the island of Mindanao.
What they eat
Flying lemurs, palm civets, flying squirrels, snakes, rats, monkeys and other such small to medium mammals.
Threats

Forest destruction and fragmentation, through commercial logging. Mining, more specifically, open-pit mining. Uncontrolled hunting for subsistence food. Capture for zoos and wildlife trade, and accidental capture. Pollution by pesticides is also playing a large role in the decline of the species, and occasionally, electrocution. A slow reproductive cycle is hindering any thoughts of rapid re-population.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. It is also listed on CITES Appendices I and II.  In the Philippines, the species is protected by law. Killing a Philippine eagle carries a twelve year prison sentence. There are thought to be less than five hundred individuals left in the wild.
A major captive breeding programme conducted by the Philippine Eagle Foundation exists at the Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos, where currently thirty-six Philippine eagles are housed, half of which have been bred in the centre. In this centre, positive efforts are made to return the eagles to the wild.

Various protected areas exist throughout the species’ restricted range.

Related Articles
Pagasa: Philippine Eagle bred in captivity turns 22
New protection areas set out for Philippine Eagle
4th Philippine Eagle hatched in Zamboanga del Norte’s forests 
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Groups call for Samar forest protection

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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 97 – The Visayan Warty Pig


Visayan warty pig (Sus cebifrons)

“Wild animals never kill for sport.  Man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow creatures is amusing in itself”
James A. Froude

Originally endemic to six of the Visayan Islands of the Philippines, the warty pig now only occupies two of them; Panay and Negros.  It is extinct on the other four islands.  The decline of the these wild pigs is almost entirely due to the activities of the local Warty pig by Stephanie DeYoung population.  They have been hunting, eating and wearing the Visayan warty pigs for a very long time; and, as if that were not enough, have managed to destroy ninety-five per cent of the animal’s habitat.  Retaliation attacks by farmers have also taken their toll on the population.  With only five per cent of their original territory left, the pigs are now persecuted for crop raiding, in their hunt for food on what was originally their own home ground.  Then, there are the local farmers who view the warty pigs as pests.  They trap them in pits and use snares.  In some areas explosives have been sunk into the ground, which have been activated by the rooting pigs.  In general, there seems to have been a ‘by any means’ policy, which has almost wiped this species out in the wild.  Not forgetting the poor old things are seen as objects of sport for ‘recreational hunting’ (who, in their infinite wisdom, coined that expression, is anyone’s guess!).  In all, the lot of the Visayan warty pig has not been a very happy one.

As far as pigs go, the warty pig is relatively small, although the males are almost four times bigger than the females.  At most, males reach a height of twenty-five inches at the shoulder, but can weigh up to one hundred and eighty pounds.

Close up Visayan warty pigThey have some fairly distinctive features, too.  As their name suggests, facial warts are one on them. Surprisingly though, they are not large protuberances, but they are tough. These are thought to help protect the pigs’ faces when fighting, as any combat between wild pigs involves the use of tusks; the tusks being large canines which extend from the mouth. Leathery skin and matted hair across the shoulders are also thought to help protect the animals.  The rest of their bodies are sparsely covered with bristles topped with reddish-brown to black hair on the crown.

Both male and female have a conspicuous white stripe which crosses the bridge of the nose (usually less apparent in females) which is another unique characteristic of the warty pigs.  No other island pigs have this marking.

Visayan warty pigs live in family herds, known as ‘sounders’, each containing an Warty pig by Stephanie DeYoungaverage of four to six individuals.  These sounders usually comprise a single adult male with females and youngsters of both sexes.  Although this number is typical, larger sounders of up to twelve or more can also be found.

When threatened, boars raise their manes, rather like canids raising their hackles, giving themselves the appearance of being larger and more intimidating than they actually are.  Though those tusks are quite scary on their own and perhaps best avoided.  Despite this, these animals are not known to be particularly aggressive.  In fact, these highly social creatures have been recorded as being friendly in captivity and, like most members of the pig family, they enjoy wallowing peacefully in mud.

The breeding season for Visayan warty pigs is January to March.  Boars display unusual courting  behaviour at this time and  the spiky hair around the neck grows into a long floppy, very impressive mane, which falls over the face and obscures the eyes.  This other stunning distinction usually wins the sows over instantly.  The mane is shed after the breeding season is over.

Three little Visayan pigs at Chester Zoo (2010)Following successful pairings there is gestation period of one hundred and eighteen days after which two to four piglets will be born.  They are extremely protective of their young and will display aggression if anything poses a threat to the little ones.  Females, who make nests in which to farrow, usually give birth overnight and are capable of producing a litter every eight to twelve months. The piglets will start on solids at the early age of one week but won’t be full weaned until they are six months old.

A final characteristic of note, which also enables identification of pure bred Visayan warty pigs, are the three mammary glands.  Other island pigs all have four.

Piglets are pale-brown at birth and have four dark stripes running from head to tail.  This colouration will slowly fade out over the next twelve months as the pervading hue of adulthood is reached.

Recognized as a separate species in 1993, Visayan warty pigs also play a vital role in seed dispersal of some of the more important species of plants within their range.

Natural Habitat
Nearly all (95%) of its natural lowland habitat has gone.  The species now occupies degraded habitats wherever there is dense cover available; now mostly over two thousand six hundred feet.
Where
Philippines – The islands of Negros and Panay.
What they eat
Earthworms, roots, tubers and forest fruits.  Through necessity, they also eat agricultural crops.
Threats
Severe habitat loss due to logging and clearance for agriculture – notably slash-and-burn techniques.  The species is also heavily hunted by locals for food and skins, and by  non-local recreational hunters as a means of sport and meat.  Farmers see them as pests and kill them.  Domestic pigs have been responsible for transmitting disease to the Visayan warty pig and have also  caused  hybridisation in the wild populations.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Visayan warty pig (Sus cebifrons) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  It is not afforded protection under CITES.  The species is, however, fully protected by Philippine law.  Sadly, due to lack of resources and other contributing factors, enforcement of the law has been very shaky.
There are various active conservation, captive breeding  and support programs including:
The Visayan Warty Pig Conservation Programme 
The Crocolandia Foundation
The Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation Inc.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland
The Visayan warty pig is resident in various zoos across America and Europe.

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Wee Little Piglets 
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Critical Habitat Establishment – A Conservation Strategy to Protect the Mountain Range of Central Panay
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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 91 – The Maned Wolf


Maned wolf by Tambako the Jaguar

Maned wolf by Tambako the Jaguar

“To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival”
Wendell Berry

Called a wolf and looking remarkably like a long-legged fox only adds to the mystique of this unique canid.  Invariably described as a ‘fox on stilts’, the maned wolf (genus Chrysocyon – the only species in this genus) is not closely related to either fox or wolf. Its closest extant relative is the bush dog (genus Speothos).  It is also very distantly related to a few others with bizarre names, such as the crab-eating fox and the short-eared dog.

Maned wolf walking with two pupsBut being one of a kind has not protected this species from the onslaught of encroaching agriculture and road building.  A great many maned wolves are killed on the roads every year. A problem which has been addressed with introduced speed limits and local awareness, but as usual, not everyone takes note and fatalities on the roads are still high.

The maned wolf has been greatly misjudged in the past.  Under the false label of chicken, cattle and sheep killer, it was once hunted mercilessly by farmers.  It is now known these shy, retiring creatures will not approach human settlements for any reason, and will run away in fear if they see humans approaching elsewhere.  Consequently, with the exception of a few very remote areas, the reputation of the maned wolf has altered in its favour.

Maned wolf pupLet’s not forget, of course, the now-to-be-expected threat of folk medicine.  The eyes of the maned wolf are purported to bring good fortune and as a result are made into amulets.  This is very local, not big business, and certainly not a serious threat to the species, but a change would be helpful.

The most remarkable feature of the maned wolf are the legs.  Extraordinarily long, they are thought to be an adaptation enabling the species to see its prey in the tall grass. The legs have a pacing gait which allows each side of the body to move together, helping it to travel quickly across large areas of its territory.

Maned wolf pup curled upManed wolves weigh up to seventy-five pounds, can reach over three feet at the shoulder and be as long as five and a half feet from head to tip of tail.  The ears are large, and can be rotated when listening for prey moving through the high grass. 

Maned wolves have reddish-brown fur with black legs, a black muzzle, white markings on the throat and a white tip on the tail.  They have a distinctive black ‘mane’ which, when erect, signals displays of aggression or potential threats, rather like a domestic dog’s hackles going up.

The species does not come together in packs, which is quite unusual in the canid world. They are mainly solitary animals and nocturnal hunters.  In order to flush out its prey, the maned wolf will tap its foot on the ground, pounce and kill.  It will kill the prey by biting the neck or back, or simply by shaking it to death.

Maned wolf carrying pupManed wolves are monogamous, coming together only during the breeding season.  There is  a gestation period of up to sixty-five days.   After which a litter of anything between one and six pups, each weighing about one pound, will be born.  Both eyes and ears are closed until the pups are nine days old.  The mother will provide regurgitated food when they reach four weeks.  By ten weeks, their black fur will change to red, and by fifteen weeks they will be fully weaned.  They will still be reliant upon their parents for provision of food for their first year, at the end of which they will be fully grown.  Originally, it was thought the female alone cared for the young. Now it is believed the male also takes part in this process.

Natural Habitat
Semi-open tall grasslands, wet grassland, woodlands and scrub forest.
Where
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Peru.  Possibly Uruguay – but it is generally thought they have been extirpated.
What they eat
Fruits and vegetable matter, insects, small reptiles, birds and small mammals such as cuis, rabbits and viscachas.
Threats
Habitat reduction due to agricultural conversion (mainly to soy bean plantations) and road building.  Maned wolves are often killed on the roads, too.  Competition with, and the transmission of diseases from, domestic dogs has also played a part in their decline. “The maned wolf is particularly susceptible to infection by the giant kidney worm, a potentially fatal parasite that may also infect domestic dogs.” (Wikipedia)  Body parts are sometimes used in local folk medicine.  The species do not have any natural predators.
Status:  Near Threatened 
The Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Near Threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future).  The species is also listed under  CITES Appendix 11.  It is protected in Argentina as an endangered species and included on the list of threatened animals in Brazil.  It is also included in the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species List.  Hunting is prohibited in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia.  Law enforcement is lax.

There are thought to be little more than twenty thousand maned wolves left in the wild today.  Most of these are found in Brazil.

There are over four hundred maned wolves reportedly kept in captivity.  Less than one hundred of these are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan.  Mane wolves breed don’t well in captivity and there is a high recorded mortality rate of pups. There are various other conservation plans in progress initiated by a wide variety of non-profit organisations.  One of which is the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – forest conversion plans have been put in place in the hope of restoring some of the maned wolf’s habitat.

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