Before anything, a little back story! : )
Earlier this year, I heard about the Bartels Scientific Illustration Internship at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology from Liza (thank you!), who learned of it from the Ayala Museum (thanks Ms. Jo Ann and Sir Ken!). Every year they open up three positions for illustration interns from all over the world who will work on different projects pertaining to birds and to the programs of the Lab. This year, one of the focus birds of the Lab and the internship is no other than our very own Philippine Eagle. It’s an excellent opportunity to contribute to the efforts towards helping conserve and educate others about the Philippine Eagle.
As part of my research for the materials I would be working on at the internship, the Lab had arranged for me to have an immersion visit to the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao! Here is an account of the trip.
The Philippine Eagle Center is in Malagos, Davao City, which is about an hour’s drive from the airport. It’s an eco park and also a facility that houses the eagles, as well as different animals endemic to our country, that The Philippine Eagle Foundation takes care of. A lot of these animals had been injured due to hunting and other mishaps, and had been rescued and rehabilitated into good health.
I arrived in the afternoon, and had a tour of the park when I got there.
Eagle Pag-Asa! The first ever captive hatched and bred Philippine Eagle. His name is exactly what he represents.
The female Philippine Eagle only lays eggs every two years, and not every hatching is successful. Even in cases of artificial insemination, not every attempt is successful. The Philippine Eagles are Critically Endangered, which is next to Extinct in the Wild, which is next to complete extinction. The need for new eagles and for preserving the ones we have now are much more important and pressing now more than ever.
In addition to helping the eagles breed, The Philippine Eagle Foundation also works with captive breeding and artificial insemination methods. Pag-asa’s birth and life and continuing health proves hope for the further conservation of our national animal.
Here is where potential eagle pairs are tested if they are fit to be each other’s mate, kind of like a “courtship” cage. It’s a dome-shaped enclosure that’s divided in two. In one side of the cage is a male eagle, and a female in another. The team observes if the eagles display signs of affection or compatibility as eagle pairs. They check if the male brings the female food, or if the female eagle pays any attention to the male eagle, pretty much like how humans are with courtship. In this cage are Gloria Victoria (male) and Hiyas (female). In their time in the cage, the team says the two haven’t shown any signs of compatibility yet, though!
There are around 35 eagles in the center. Some are on display for educational purposes (these are the ones who are much more used to people and some noise), while some live in seclusion and are being prepared for release into the wild. Here are some more of the eagles on display.
A lot of visitors think that the cages are unkempt and are unsatisfactory homes for the eagles, when really, the Center maintains these as best they can while still providing a home that is as close to the natural habitats of eagles as possible. They try to keep the surroundings similar to the forests which prove to be a better ambiance for the eagles. The trees around the cages and the placement of the cages also block out noise from the visitors that may agitate the eagles.
Fighter is another one of the Center’s eagles.
He had been shot in the left wing and had been rescued and treated, but the damaged wing had to be amputated. It was frustrating to watch him try to fly because he can’t anymore.
Hunting remains to be one of the top reasons for the continuous decline in numbers of the Philippine Eagles we have left now. From what used to be hundreds and hundreds of Philippine Eagles we used to have, now there are only around 400 left in the whole country.
Fighter has one of the most visible enclosures in the park. You can walk right up to him and see how beautiful the Philippine Eagle really is up close! I have never looked at an eagle so closely before, and I can now say for myself that no book or photograph or film can ever compare to how it looks like in real life.
Here are some of the other raptors (birds of prey) and eagles in the Center.
the Brahminy Kite
Colin of the Philippine Eagle Foundation with a Philippine Serpent Eagle.
a White Bellied Sea Eagle
All around the park, there are other birds that roam and make the Center their home. Posters of the different birds that you can spot in the park are mounted along the park path to guide visitors. There are kingfishers and hornbills and lots of other birds to look for!
Among the raptors (birds of prey) and other birds in the center are other animals rescued and given a new home at the Center. One of them is a crocodile who had been blinded by a dynamite. Again, it’s really so sad to see the harm humans can do to the creatures who we’re supposed to share the earth peacefully with.
Philippine Black Deer
I learned that antlers indicate the age of a deer. Every year it sheds its antlers, and regrows them with an additional stem with each year it grows older.
Rai of the Philippine Eagle Foundation also took me to a trail that’s currently off-limits to visitors, and showed me some golden-crowned flying foxes. It really feels so different to see animals in their natural habitats. Kind of makes you feel really small, even.
After the tour of the park, we had dinner at PEF executive director sir Dennis Salvador’s place, whose family were also my very kind hosts during my stay. In this photo, L-R: sir Dennis, me, and some from the Philippine Eagle Foundation team ma’am An, Pat, Gold, Abe, Kat, Shari, ma’am Bing, Rai, sir Jayson.
The next day, we went up to Carmen, Davao to see eagle Matatag in the wild! I have never seen an eagle fly free in the wild before, too, so this was quite an experience.
With Datu Landim of the Obu Manuvu forest guards in the area. He wore his indigenous costume for our visit!
The indigenous forest guards make for a very sustainable and natural way of protecting the forests, which where our eagles are. They know the forests very well since these lands are also their ancestral lands. Forest guarding not only helps with protecting the eagles and their homes, but also gives sustainable livelihood to our Obu Manuvu brothers and sisters.
Eagle Matatag is very closely monitored. Every day the guards look for him and record their observations about where he is, his behavior, and his health. This is to ensure that Matatag is taken care of even without being held captive.
When the team goes without any eagle sighting for at least 4 days, they set out to search for the eagle in the forest by foot. Can you just imagine? It really is like looking for a needle in a haystack! And such dedication from the team, wow. They have tracking devices that give approximations on where the eagle is. Corresponding beeps on the transmitter also tell them if the eagle is in danger.
Hi! Trying out the transmitter. Also kind of giggly.
A peek of eagle Matatag through the telescope. Can you see hiiiim?
He was eating a snake when we found him, wow! I feel so honored to have seen an eagle in the wild. It’s not even every day that they get to see Matatag, and when we visited we got to observe him for a long time.
The day’s company. Thank you Kat, Gold, kuya Joshua, and all the forest guards for letting me tag along!
lunch on the mountains
When we got back to the Center, Gold and I along with Kenji, one of the Center’s volunteers, went up to the aversion cage.
In 2004, Kabayan, an eagle born through artificial insemination, was released in the wild, only to pass away the following year due to electrocution on a high-voltage power line. It had been a really heartbreaking moment for everyone. After this incident, the Center had come up with a new step in the releasing preparations.
The aversion cage is a simulation cage of the forest environment where the eagles will be released in, but with a power line in the middle, charged with a low voltage of electricity. Before eagles are released into the wild, they get isolated and conditioned in the aversion cage first. They learn and feel, upon contact of the power line, that they should not be perching on these structures. Again, such a sad reality of humans’ idea of progress obstructing the way of the earth and nature.
Hello, eagle Pamana! Yes, the same eagle that was released into the wild last June 12. We got to observe him in two shifts, writing down all his activities every 5 minutes, or every time he moves or changes his position in the cage, etc. Aversion cage observation helps the team know if the eagle really is ready to be released into the wild.
The cage is in a secluded area of the park, and we had to be really quiet so as not to stress out the bird.
The activities of the bird, time they happen, and location in the cage they are in when it happens are recorded.
During my last day in Davao, I got to watch Colin do a keeper talk, where they bring out some of the birds and introduce them to the visitors. Here is Colin with a Pinsker’s hawk eagle.
serpent eagle with Fighter in the back
Fighter strikes a pose with Colin and some of the Center’s volunteers
Afterwards, Colin took me to feed the eagles! The eagles are fed with rabbits, mice, and quails, all of which are bred specifically for food for the animals in the Center. They feed the eagles slaughtered pieces, but also every so often, they feed them live animals so as to still give the eagles the chance to hunt for their food.
All the cages have pipes stuck through the side, and that’s where the food is pushed in. Sometimes you have to use a stick to push the food all the way in if it gets stuck in the pipe.
The rest of the day was spent making notes, taking reference photos, and studying the eagles and learning how to draw them.
They say that these pretty flowers, when boiled and ingested, make you go crazy.
Hello again, Fighter!
some quick sketches
Now. Let me tell you about the legendary “big book”.
Part of the conservation education projects of The Philippine Eagle Foundation is going to schools and communities around the eagles’ homes to teach the kids about the Philippine Eagle. They use this big book for storytelling. The story is Fly, Malaya, Fly! written by Grace Chong, illustrated by Longlong Pesquira. The story was donated to the Foundation and it’s what they’ve been using as their main storytelling material ever since.
The actual published book is a lot smaller, about the size of the usual local children’s books we have today. The teachers of the Foundation scanned the book, printed the pages on tarpaulin, wrapped the tarp around illustration board, and tied everything together. It has around 20 spreads, and weighs 8 kg!
There are mainly two teachers who carry this book around themselves to the communities and schools, whether they be in the city or the mountains. I’ve met the two, Shari and Kat. They’ve told me stories about when the book sometimes needs its own porter because it’s so big and heavy, and how sometimes they can’t bring it to a lot of places when they hold field work separately because there’s only one copy, and it’s expensive to produce more. They also translate the stories verbally themselves while storytelling.
As a children’s book illustrator, this is something that really struck me hard, the dedication of these people to educate others. It’s not with every book project that you really see how your work is being used. Most of the time, after the deadline and getting the final copy, maybe the occasional book launch, we don’t really get to witness how kids and teachers and parents use our work to educate. Learning about this big book really gave me a different perspective to what I do, and has definitely inspired me to make the best work I can with every book project. While it may seem like it’s just another project to us, it definitely is much, much, much more to the kids and teachers out there.
Now, the internship I applied for. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is partnering up with The Philippine Eagle Foundation to produce new educational materials for the conservation education campaign for the Philippine Eagle, including making a new book! I’ll be helping with the illustrations and design for whatever materials they need. I’m really happy I have this opportunity to contribute what I can to such a great cause, and getting trained myself.
Yes! Go go go!
So there we are. And here I am in the States, hello! I flew in this past weekend. I’m currently in New Jersey with relatives, getting ready. We’re driving to Cornell in Ithaca, New York this coming weekend, and the adventure will begin! Again, the past few months have been this wild rollercoaster ride of feelings and trying to earn funds and preparations. I’m nervous as I am excited haha. This is probably the biggest thing I’ve accomplished as of yet. It’s also a big reminder to hold on to your ~dreams~ and all the things you want to do in life because you never really know what’s going to happen and what God has in store for you. This is so much bigger than what I had planned for myself, and I’m really grateful.
THANK YOU thank you so much everyone for all the support. For the lovely folks at the Philippine Eagle Foundation for the very nice time I had in Davao, sir Dennis Salvador and family, sir Jayson Ibanez, and the rest of the team. To the Lab of Ornithology for sending me to Davao. To Ms. Jo Ann Gando, Sir Ken Esguerra of the Ayala Museum. Liza Flores and Ani Almario for my recommendations. To all who supported my art fundraiser, who spread the word, for the moral support and pep talks. You have no idea how much they all mean to me. Studio Dialogo, Ang INK, all the awesome friends and family and even strangers! for the love and everything you have given me as support. Group hug, you’ve all been such a big blessing! God sure knows how to take care of things. In all my rush and hurry I know I wasn’t able to thank you all properly, I’m sorry. I will do my best in this internship!
Here are other ways you can help with the conservation projects of the Philippine Eagle Foundation!
1. Visit The Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos, Davao.
Proceeds of your visit will surely go to help maintain the park and all the animals there. Drop by the gift shop, too, because sales of the souvenirs also contribute to sustaining the conservation efforts while giving the locals the chance to earn through their crafts.
3. Spread the word about our Philippine Eagle, and be part of the conservation education by telling the people around you yourself! There are conservation efforts all around the country. Just recently they found the first active eagle nesting site in Luzon.