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After one year and two months since they were transferred from the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City to the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore, the Philippine eagle pair—Geothermica and Sambisig—is now well adapted to their new environment and may well be on the way to renewing a not-so-old and familiar feeling toward each other.
Astoundingly, despite what can be considered an unwanted breakup, the mutual attraction between the two eagles which began in 2018 before their journey to Singapore as “Ambassadors for Philippine Biodiversity,” is back and is getting stronger, even as they are still living separately at the Birds of Prey Enclosure that was especially constructed for the majestic birds.
At the Jurong Bird Park, its staff members are hoping to see Geo and Sam, their nicknames, finally getting to know each other more and becoming “more than friends”—and finally having their first egg soon.
All this with the hope of producing offsprings and helping save the Philippine national bird from extinction within the 10-year period that they are allowed to remain in Singapore.
The Philippine eagle is a unique species. They pair for life and both parents are needed to hatch an egg, feed and nurture the young until it is ready to fly and leave its nest to find its own territory.
It takes at least two years for a pair to breed a single chick, hence, making breeding a tough job for both parents.
A Philippine eagle chick is said to be vulnerable and may succumb to disease as it is exposed to the elements and the brutal jungle environment.
Wildlife loan agreement
Geo and Sam were flown to Singapore in June 2019 as part of a Wildlife Loan Agreement between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore.
This was the first time that the government allowed the Philippine eagle to be loaned, highlighting the bilateral diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The arrival of the eagles to Singapore on June 5, 2019, also coincided with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Singapore, DENR Assistant Secretary Ricardo Calderon said in a telephone interview on August 18.
The Wildlife Loan Agreement with Singapore, he said, is also a way of promoting the country’s iconic bird. “Like the bald eagle of America, the Philippines has the Philippine eagle. One of the largest bird of preys in the world,” said Calderon, the concurrent director of the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) .
In good hands
Calderon said the eagles appear to be in good hands, and is satisfied with the way the eagles are being cared for.
“So far, they are in good condition. The habitat and enclosures are good and there are dedicated people for the breeding of the eagles,” Calderon said in a mix of English and Filipino.
He bared that the Wildlife Reserves Singapore is planning to transfer the eagles to a bigger and better enclosure, which will be helpful in the pairing of the rare eagle pair.
The partnership between the Philippines and Singapore is part of a conservation strategy to save the endemic Philippine species from extinction by breeding the eagles outside the Philippines.
Besides massive habitat loss and being hunted to the brink of extinction, the threat of deadly zoonotic diseases, such as avian influenza, is real, Calderon said.
It is believed that only around 400 pairs of the iconic bird of prey is left in the wild, and a deadly virus that cause avian flu could cause their extinction.
Hence, the need for a second metapopulation other than the Philippine Eagle Center, which has a successful captive-breeding program, came as insurance of sorts, he said.
Upon their arrival in Singapore, both eagles received local ID’s in Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), Kimberly Wee, of the Jurong Bird Park’s Avian Department, said in the annual report to the DENR by Wildlife Reserves Singapore on July 23.
ZIMS is an online database of captive animals under human care in Singapore. It acts as a zoological data collection and management software and contains information on more than 22,000 species and 10 million individual animals.
The database covers a wide range of information and is used to help zoological institutions managing captive animals, Wee said.
17-year-old Geo, the male eagle, is younger than Sam by a year. Both were hatched at the Philippine Eagle Center.
The two were previously introduced to other partners but with no success, Jayson Ibañez, director for Research and Conservation at the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) told the BusinessMirror in a telephone interview on August 26.
The PEF is the DENR’s partner in the conservation of the Philippine eagle. It manages the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City and is credited for the successful captive-breeding program of one of the world’s rarest birds.
Ibañez said before they were flown to Singapore, the two were starting to bond and are, in fact, close to being “a pair”
However, because they will be sent to Singapore, the breeding efforts were stopped.
Good health, good diet
Both eagles are properly taken cared of by their Singapore caretakers. Before their transfer to the Asean country, the PEF trained a team from the Jurong Bird Park for a week to learn how to care for the pair of the world’s largest birds of prey.
According to Wee, the eagles are fed once a day, with a maximum of 300 grams of meat—either of goat, horse, quail and rat. The eagles rejected rabbit meat which was initially offered by their caretakers.
“The indigestible parts of their animal [feed], such as the bones and fur, get regurgitated into small pellets called ‘castings.’ These castings can be regularly found in the eagles’ [excrement] and are a good sign that the eagle is eating and digesting its food well,” Wee said.
To ensure they remain healthy, they are fed with a mineral supplement containing vitamin D3 once a week.
Except for Sam, whose overgrown beak had to be “fixed” via trimming, both eagles remain healthy and strong.
Geo has had the opportunity to practice his hunting skill and killed some iguanas and monitor lizards.
According to Wee, on the first few months of their arrival, Geo and Sam were seen bickering a few times a day.
“They fight by launching, talons first, onto the adjoining mesh in an attempt to grab the other. They are protected from each other by the double mesh, which prevents them from being able to physically touch or grab onto each other,” she said.
But as time went on, the number of these incidents has decreased. Wee said the fights rarely occur recently.
“They have been seen showing signs of bonding, and can be occasionally be seen either sitting or eating together peacefully,” We observed.
Moreover, Wee said the eagles can now regularly be seen “exhibiting natural behaviors, such as eating, preening, sun/rain bathing and vocalizing in the presence of people.”
Better facility, habitat
PEF Executive Director Dennis Salvador expects Geo and Sam to reunite but it will take time, he said in a telephone interview on August 27.
However, with their history together, Salvador is confident that Sam and Geo will eventually get along and become a pair and breed.
He expects the breeding effort to improve and gain headway as the Wildlife Reserves Singapore plans to transfer the two to a bigger facility.
With the Jurong Bird Park team, being properly trained by the PEF to do the job, Salvador is confident that the breeding program will succeed.
In case of failure, in case Geo and Sam relationship will not work and produce offspring, he said the DENR and PEF may eventually decide to pick another partner for either of the two eagles.
However, he remains confident that with the positive development reported by the Wildlife Resources Singapore, everything is looking good.
Salvador said it is now up to the eagles’ caretakers to decide the right time for Geo and Sam to be brought together in one enclosure and make their breeding happen.
Image credits: Philippine Eagle Foundation