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Philippine Eagle Hineleban feared ambushed, killed

By Philippine Eagle Foundation
Thursday, 18 March 2010 20:02

File photo of Philippine Eagle by Alain Pascua

DAVAO CITY (Philippine Eagle Foundation/18 March) -- The Philippine Eagle Hineleban, released to the Mount Kitanglad range last October, is feared dead.

Hineleban, a male eagle bred at the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC), has been missing since late November. An intensive and protracted search resulted in the recovery of the carcass of a male Philippine Eagle in Barangay Lupiagan in Bukidnon on January 15. The Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) has reason to believe that the carcass is that of Hineleban and that the bird was a victim of foul play.

Hineleban was last seen by the PEF’s monitoring team at a potato farm in Barangay Lupiagan last November 29. The team had been following Hineleban closely since it was seen frequenting human-populated areas since its release. On November 29, the team attempted to drive the eagle out of the farm and into the forest but the eagle kept its position on top of a hill on the forest edge until daylight faded. The team returned to the hill the next day but did not find the eagle despite intense visual and radio tracking search.

Hineleban was fitted with two separate transmitters – one for radio and the other for satellite readings. The team tried to get signals from the radio transmitter even from the highest points of Mt. Kitanglad but could not get any. The last satellite transmitter location reading was on November 26, four days before the bird was first reported missing.

The satellite readings are taken on a 10-day cycle, but no signals were received from the transmitter on its scheduled uploads on December 8, 18 and 28 and January 11. While battery failure was a possibility, it was highly unlikely that the batteries of the separate devices failed at the same time. These two stage homing devices are virtually fail-safe. This prompted the PEF and the search team to suspect that the transmitters were deliberately destroyed and the eagle was harmed.

All the places that Hineleban had previously visited were searched and the proper authorities informed. The Protected Areas Superintendent (PASU) office, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the PEF convened a search team composed of community leaders and residents and the Kitanglad Guard Volunteers (KGV). The Philippine National Police was also involved in the search and investigation. Reward for information was put up by Governor Zubiri to aid the investigation.

No solid leads were found until January 16, 2010, when a witness, Jorito Dawonhay, came forward and reported to the police that he had seen two men strike an eagle with a bamboo pole and place the bird in a sack on the night of November 29.

Dawonhay, a barangay tanod in Lupiagan, had seen Ruben Dahe and Aljon Maloay drinking and followed the men to check on their activities. He reported seeing them put the eagle in the sack and running away, but failed to catch up with them in the darkness. The next day, Dawonhay reported what he had seen to Barangay Councilor Masong, who advised him that he needed to present evidence to support his claim. Since then, Dawonhay scoured the area for traces of the eagle until January 14, when he and his dog unearthed the remains of what appeared to be an eagle under a sayote plant that Dahe owned.

The remains were transported to Davao for identification and necropsy on January 16. The carcass had no head, no legs and no wings. There were very few feathers, and there was no leg band. Dr. Roberto Puentespina positively identified the remains as that of a male Philippine Eagle. It is unlikely that any other eagle could have occurred in the same area where it was recovered other than Hineleban.

In the weeks following the incident, the Philippine Eagle Foundation and our partners in the release program felt that it would be detrimental to the case to discuss the incident in public while the suspects were still at large. To this day, however, no arrests have been made and they remain at large. We therefore issue this statement to appeal to the law enforcement agencies and the judicial offices of the province of Bukidnon to take urgent action on this matter and demonstrate that the violation of our natural resources IS A CRIME.

All involved in the release of Hineleban especially its adoptor Unifrutti Philippines as well as the Peregrine Fund and Houston Zoo were saddened by this turn of events. Many others including the PASU office and PAMB of Mt. Kitanglad, the Kitanglad Guard Volunteers, the PNP, the local government and people of Sumilao, Bukidnon, and the DENR were incensed and took action to search for the eagle and identify the culprits. Whatever the eagle’s killers’ motivations may be, these acts seem to reflect a society and culture with little regard for nature and for life. We continue to call on our countrymen to think hard and act carefully with regard to our natural resources. We have already begun to feel the disastrous effects of imbalances in nature (flashfloods and landslides due to deforestation), we cannot afford more. (Philippine Eagle Foundation)