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Helping hands meant freedom for endangered Kabugao Eagle

Updated: Apr 16

by Dr. Jayson Ibañez, PEF Director for Operations

Philippine Eagle "Nariha Kabugao" in flight after her release in Brgy. Bulu, Kabugao last April 12, 2024. Photo by Erwin Mascariñas

A female Philippine eagle was released successfully in Brgy Bulu in Kabugao town of Apayao last April 12, 2024, less than a month after its rescue.

Following a release countdown, the eagle darted out of her transport box, overshoots the release platform, and for a moment stayed on the ground. Then, it leaped and flapped its powerful wings to freedom. But not just yet. She has to regain her composure, fix her feathers, and find her bearings. And so, she did. Up in a tree a few hundred meters away from her human well-wishers, she landed. For almost an hour, she meticulously oiled, preened, and arranged her wing and tail plumages. She also scanned the horizon as if trying to make out her territory from the vast forest landscape ahead.

"Nariha Kabugao" leaps out of her kennel, assesses the area before flying away from the onlookers at the release platform.

Footage by Philip Malindog

“A true matriarch. Despite the ordeal she went through, she must remain in her best self!” blurted one of the female guests in the crowd. Then she leaped, stretched her full wingspan, and rode the column of hot air rising from the ravine. Then, the naturally elusive apex predator vanished amongst the thick forest line of Paco Valley. Named “Nariha Kabugao” (Nariha is “beautiful” in Indigenous Isnag language), the eagle’s first name aptly described this eagle conservation milestone.

Common home

"Paco Valley" - the forest home of Philippine Eagle "Nariha Kabugao". These forests are part of ancestral lands that belong to the Isnag of Kabugao, Apayao. Photo by PEF Executive Director Dennis J. I. Salvador

Home to female Philippine Eagle “Nariha Kabugao” is the “Paco valley” - a swath of ancient forests that is also the ancestral lands of the Indigenous Isnag of Kabugao for centuries. Paco Valley, in turn, lies at the core of the 177,000-hectare Apayao Lowland Forest Key Biodiversity Area (KBA).  

Dubbed as the North’s last nature frontier, the Provincial Government and the DENR are pursuing a global “Biosphere Reserve” distinction for this KBA. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or UNESCO, through its Man and Biosphere (MAB) program, decides over each application. When awarded, it means that leader actions and decisions and the way-of-life of communities follow the gold standards for sustainable human-and-nature co-existence. 

The Philippine Eagle Foundation, through its 37 years of expertise in endangered species research and stakeholder-led and grassroots-based conservation, is a critical partner to this endeavor.  

Our symbol and its forest home are in danger

“The last forest homes of our country’s national bird are shrinking” said Engineer Paquito Moreno, Regional Executive Director of the Cordillera Administrative Region’s Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) during a pre-eagle release ceremony held at Brgy Bulu in Kabugao, Apayao on April 12, 2024. Director Moreno cited climate change as a threat, but also shooting, trapping and hunting of our majestic national symbol.

“Harming and killing our very own national bird is pointless” echoed Dennis Salvador, Executive Director of the non-profit and conservation NGO Philippine Eagle Foundation.  “There is clearly no value in shooting, killing, and capturing these precious birds”, he added.

Mr. Salvador made this remark based on the fact that eagle “Nariha Kabugao” was captured in a native trap at the heart of Paco Valley. The eagle’s x-ray also showed three air-gun pellets lodged in its body.

Nariha Kabugao is the third Philippine eagle to be rescued in Apayao since 2005, and all were accidentally caught in native traps. When combined with eagle rescue data from the Northern Sierra Madre, at least nine eagles, including Nariha Kabugao were trapped since 1999 in Northern Luzon.   

Clear solutions

“We are deeply sorry”, was the response of Kabugao Vice Mayor Fabby Tucjang during his community message to over 100 guests and residents during a post-release meeting at Brgy Bulu. Owning full responsibility for the shooting and accidental trapping of the innocent eagle, he made the public apology. But like a true leader motivated to right a wrong, he promised local laws and clear LGU programs aimed at stopping wildlife hunting and slash-and-burn farming practices in Kabugao altogether.

Vice Mayor Fabby Tucjang giving his message. Photo by PEF Biologist Ma. Susana Legaspi

Vice Mayor Tucjang also presented the four Bulu farmers who accidentally caught the eagles, and shared the provincial government’s action to train and hire the four men as “Green Guards” to help expand a culture of wildlife guardianship within Bulu and across all villages around Paco Valley.  

In a moving, and heartfelt message to the local residents, GMA 7 wildlife presenter and veterinarian Doc Neilsen Donato promised that he will tell the very inspiring and powerful story of the Kabugao eagle to the world.

“For me, the accidental capture of eagle Nariha Kabugao is a symbolic distress signal from her species. They are in trouble”, he said.

Doc Nielsen Donato giving his inspirational message. Photo by PEF Biologist Ma. Susana Legaspi

“But her swift rehabilitation and her release to freedom and how community, LGU, agency and citizen collaboration worked to bring back her health in less than a month since her capture also say that there is still hope” he added.      

Ms. Mari Almeda of the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the DENR, Apayao Provincial Board Member Vincent Talattag, and Bulu Barangay Captain Jayson Tucjang also gave their respective messages. They echoed clear actions to help keep Nariha Kabugao and her Apayao bloodline safe from harm.  

Representatives from concerned groups also joined the release event and showed support: the Philippine Information Agency of CAR, the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Army, the DENR Apayao staff and their colleagues from CENRO Calanasan and Conner, the Office of the Provincial Government of Apayao and Congressional Office of Apayao, Kabugao and Conner LGU, and some socio-civic groups and local residents.

Critical to any conservation partnership is a strong internal drive from all stakeholders to do their share. Such behavioral transformation needs to happen, and Apayao is showing us the way.

The PEF release team with stakeholders and partners during the release program for PE Nariha Kabugao

Close monitoring

GIS mapping of the first batch of the readings from the GPS transmitter installed on the eagle’s back indicate that she is moving slowly towards the safe interiors of Paco Valley. We anticipate a re-union with his monogamous male partner in a few days. We will keep watch.  


Attaching the GSP tracker on Nariha Kabugao. Photo by PEF Biologist Ma. Susana Legaspi


Philippine Eagle "Nariha Kabugao" in flight after her release in Brgy. Bulu, Kabugao last April 12, 2024. Photo by Erwin Mascariñas

Photos from the release event: From extracting PE Nariha Kabugao to the release proper. Photos by PEF Biologist Ma. Susana Legaspi


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