endangered species

Philippine eagles Carlito and Uswag released in Leyte

Iya Gozum

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Philippine eagles Carlito and Uswag released in Leyte

FREE. Philippine eagle Carlito faces the small group of people on the wooden platform before flying into the wild.

Iya Gozum/Rappler

The release is a reintroduction of the species Pithecophaga jefferyi into the Anonang-Lobi mountain range of Leyte, where sightings of the raptors died down after Super Typhoon Yolanda

LEYTE, Philippines – Philippine eagles Carlito and Uswag flew free from captivity on Friday, June 28, reintroducing the majestic raptor’s species into the Anonang-Lobi mountain range of Leyte.

It was the first time a pair of Philippine eagles were released outside Mindanao and into the Visayas as part of the Philippine Eagle Foundation’s (PEF) translocation program.

“They shall return to their old home and hopefully, we will establish a self-sustaining population in the next five years,” Jayson Ibañez, director of PEF, told Rappler.

Carlito and Uswag’s release was a reintroduction of the species (Pithecophaga jefferyi) into the area, where sightings of the raptors died down after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) wreaked havoc on the island in 2013.

Carlito was a 6-year-old female Philippine eagle rescued in the mountains of Agusan del Sur, while Uswag was a 3-year-old found in Mt. Apo. 

Anonang-Lobi is a key biodiversity area that covers 110,000 hectares of forest land. A pair of Philippine eagles typically need around 7,000 hectares to thrive.

“We believe that this is a milestone for Philippine eagle conservation,” said Ibañez. 

“We’re very excited about this project because we think that it can help raise awareness. But then, at the same time, it would level up our conservation work by reintroducing birds from Mindanao to Leyte.”

Both raptors had lightweight GPS trackers installed on their backs. On the day of their release, Environment Secretary Toni Yulo-Loyzaga took off the magnets of the transmitters, effectively starting the tracking of the eagles.

Person, Sitting, Clothing
CARETAKER. Julia Lynne Allong, a biologist from the Philippine Eagle Foundation, cradles Carlito early morning on June 28, 2024, as the team prepares the two Philippine eagles for release. Photo by Iya Gozum/Rappler
Decade of work

According to Ibañez, they had fewer encounters of the birds in the area based on their annual counts. 

PEF was thinking of doing a restocking initiative “but then [Super] Typhoon Yolanda came,” Ibañez said.

“In our annual counts, we didn’t see the Philippine eagles anymore. We believe that [Super] Typhoon Yolanda, with its strong winds, decimated the remaining few individuals of Leyte. So, that’s when we thought about transforming the restocking project to a reintroduction.”

A reintroduction means reestablishing the founder population in an area where the raptors once roamed.

In a span of 10 years, PEF conducted biological and social feasibility studies.

They had to check if the area was large enough and had adequate prey base and nesting trees.

The group had to check for the community’s support too, and address shooting and hunting practices.

While they worked with pockets of locals within the 6-kilometer radius from where the raptors were released, PEF mostly had to engage the village of Kagbang, which serves as the gateway to Anonang-Lobi.

“I think that’s one strength of this area as a release site, because you need to only work with a single community rather than a lot of communities,” said Ibañez.

“They’re strategically positioned so that they’re the gateway or entry point to the whole watershed.”

Offshoot: a new arboretum

An hour away from the release site was the Eastern Visayas State University (EVSU) campus in Burauen, where a new arboretum rises.

A day before the eagles were released, EVSU signed a memorandum of agreement with PEF and the Energy Development Corporation (EDC).

According to Ibañez, the arboretum was an offshoot of the translocation project for Carlito and Uswag.

The Binhi Arboretum Project in EVSU would feature endangered species of native trees that can also be found in Anonang-Lobi.

“[Philippine native trees] support a wide variety of other native [plant] and [animal] species, many of which are endemic in their respective regions, including our mighty Philippine eagle,” said forester Erwin Magallanes from EDC.

Aside from being a showcase of native trees, the arboretum would serve as a gene bank as well as a learning environment for EVSU students. – Rappler.com

All quotes in Filipino were translated into English for brevity.

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.