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Revival of forests key to survival of Philippine Eagle.

More delay in the much-needed rehabilitation of forests paired with the rampant deforestation in many parts of the country may further endanger the population of the Philippine eagle, which is already struggling to keep its numbers alive.

On the average, a Philippine eagle pair needs about 4,000 to 11,000 hectares of forest land to survive in the wild, depending on the number of prey items in the area. But with the rapid loss of Philippine forests, the struggle to survive is harder than ever.

Since the 1900s, more than 70 percent of Philippine forests have been lost to make way for urban and commercial developments.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Philippine eagle as one of more than 400 plant and animal species that face the threat of extinction. Today, only 400 pairs of Philippine eagles are left in the wild.

In 2012, it joined the list of 17 critically endangered birds in the Philippines, along with the Philippine cockatoo, rufous-headed hornbill and Sulu bleeding heart.

Haribon Foundation, together with Birdlife International, reported that habitat loss in the form of rapid disappearance of Philippine forests and conversion of wetlands to other uses, is the No. 1 threat to Philippine bird species.

'The problem is twofold. While we are aware of the problem that our national bird is facing the brink of extinction, this stems from the deeper issue that we are losing our forests,' Haribon COO Maria Belinda de la Paz said.

According to the Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), almost 47,000 hectares of forest cover are lost every year. This means that only 32.6 percent of the total forest cover remains from the original forest cover, which the country had in the past century.

Some 1.2 million hectares of deforested lands of the country need to be rehabilitated three years from now, according to the DENR.

Hence, it is high time for the government and the private sector to strengthen their mutual thrust in conserving and rehabilitating Philippine forests, which could help save the Philippine eagle.

But the merits of having the apex predator thriving in the country does not end on prestige alone. Considered an 'umbrella species' by The Peregrine Fund, 'conserving Philippine eagles and their habitat automatically provides protection for all the other plants and animals that live there, too.'

'Saving the Philippine eagle could lead to a chain of events which will ultimately lead to a better environment for the Philippines,' de la Paz said.

The loss of forested areas is mainly due to commercial developments and their conversion to major thoroughfares. Road construction close to forests means higher deforestation rates as access opens up avenues for forest resource extraction and land conversion. This poses a serious threat to Philippine birds, especially the globally threatened as they predominantly occupy lowland forests.

Rapid climate change also directly affects the survival rate of the remaining Philippine eagles. It severely strikes avifaunal diversity in the Philippines, where almost 30 percent of bird species are endemic.

BirdLife International warns that over the next 40 years, the habitats of restricted range birds will continue to be unsuitable due to climate change, attributing this problem to drastic shifts in temperature and rainfall. Many species may not survive under these harsh conditions.

This problem is even more aggravated due to the geography of the Philippines. As an archipelago with over 7,000 islands, the threat of extinction of the many island-endemic, restricted-range fauna is high.

This problem should be faced with proactive resolutions from the government, in partnership with advocacy groups, and private companies. Rehabilitation of degraded forest lands and a stricter enforcement of illegal logging bans are encouraged to ensure the survival of species such as the Philippine eagle.

'But saving the Philippine eagle does not only mean preserving Philippine biodiversity, this contributes to the global environment as well,' de la Paz reminded.

Since 2014, Haribon Foundation has been addressing this problem through The Philippine Eagle Project. This campaign has started from the early days of the Haribon Society, and has now increased knowledge and understanding of the biological and ecological characteristics of haring ibon in the Sierra Madre.

With support from international and local sponsors alike, Haribon fights to prevent the extinction of the Philippine national bird.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:May 20, 2019
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