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Philippine eagles ‘Carlito’ and ‘Uswag’ Released in Leyte

Philippine Eagle "Uswag" in his release flight at Barangay Kagbana. Photo by Rey Niel Salac.

Burauen, Leyte. Leyte Island is a natural home to the Philippine Eagles. However, Super Typhoon Yolanda seemed to have wiped out all the eagles on Leyte when it devastated the island on 2013. Thereafter, not a single eagle was detected during annual surveys by the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) and DENR.

To re-establish a founder eagle population on the island, PEF and DENR took the bold step of translocating and releasing two Philippine eagles from Mindanao to Leyte on June 28, 2024.

These eagles are “Uswag” and “Carlito”. They are the first birds out of a total of 18 eagles that will be released in Leyte within five years as part of the Philippine Eagle Reintroduction Program.

Uswag, formerly named “Sibulan”, is a 3-year-old male eagle rescued at the foot of Mt. Apo in Davao City in 2023. On the other hand, Carlito, formerly named “Pangyan”, is a five-year-old female eagle rescued from Pangyan, Trento, Agusan del Sur in 2022. The birds were rehabilitated and conditioned for release at the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City.

The birds underwent laboratory screenings for infectious raptor diseases such as Avian Flu and New Castle’s Disease as well standard agility and fitness tests. Both passed these screenings. They also went through a “power-pole aversion training” which taught them to avoid landing on powerline posts that can potentially led to the birds getting accidentally electrocuted.

After the veterinarians cleared the birds, they were airlifted to Leyte from the Davao City airport on June 11, 2024. From the airport, the birds were transported by land on board a 4x4 SUV to the jump-off at Brgy Kagbana im Burauen. From the jump-off, PEF staff cradled the eagles like babies and walked them for at least an hour to their respective cages at the heart of the Marabong forests.

Dr. Jayson C. Ibanez, PEF Director for Operations and Mr. Dominic Tadena, Conservation Breeding Program Manager, coddle Carlito and Uswag as they hike the trail leading to the acclimation site in Barangay Kagbana. Photo by PEF Biologist Julia Allong

The eagles were then placed inside their respective cage and remained there for 17 days to allow them to adjust and acclimatize to their new environment. PEF Biologists and local forest guards took turns feeding and watching over the birds 24/7.

Finally, on June 28, 2024, PEF, DENR and its network of collaborators made history when eagles “Carlito” and “Uswag” were released within the heart of the Marabong Watershed near Kagbana in Burauen, Leyte.

The release of the two eagles from Mindanao to Leyte Island is the first in the history of the Philippine eagle conservation program. Called “conservation translocation”, the intentional transfer of animals from one locality to another to increase its chances of survival is a standard method for conserving species that are at the brink of extinction. “Species Reintroduction”, on the other hand, is the strategy of bringing back a wild population in an area where all individuals of the original population have already died out.

The release is the culmination of a decade-long preparation, which included biological and social feasibility studies, public education campaigns, setting up partnerships and networking and livelihood provisions to the host community, among others.

The historic release was also joined by various partners and collaborators who came to the pre-release ceremony despite the intermittent rains and challenging trek to the release site.

Honorable Maria Antonia “Tony’ Yulo-Loyzaga, Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, walked to the release site together with her colleagues from the national and the regional offices despite the muddy and slippery trail.

“It was a very beautiful walk, I should say. If the weather was any cooler, it would have been better, but such as it is we are very glad to be here. It is quite an honor to be here amongst you and joining you in this occasion”, was here warm remark in her speech.

Sharing the general sentiments of the crowd, she mentioned that “Our hope, therefore, is that Uswag and Carlito will actually bear offspring that will help us reintroduce this species sustainably here in this part of the country….”

She also personally thanked our species champion in Congress. “I also wish to say that we, in the DENR, are very grateful to speaker Martin Romualdez, principally because this is the first time in the 2024 budget that we obtain species specific conservation funding and the Philippine eagle is a part of that species”, the Secretary added.

Major project funders Mohammed Bin Zayed Raptor Conservation Fund (MBZRCF), represented by its Chief Executive Officer Dr. Munir Virani, and the Insular Life represented by its President and Chief Executive Officer Raoul Antonio Littaua also gave their warm messages.

"Today marks a truly special moment for the people of the Philippines and also for the Mohammed Bin Zayed Raptor Conservation Fund as we witness the first phase of the release of the two critically endangered Philippine eagles on the beautiful island of Leyte. We are truly humbled by this initiative, which is a testament to the commitment of the Philippine people and particularly that of the Philippine Eagle Foundation and all the stakeholders and partners that have made this such a special day that has brought us all here together for this historical moment”, said Dr Munir Virani in his message.

In his message, Mr Raoul Littaua shared that “…The conservation of the Philippine eagle is close to our hearts not only because we have adopted it as a company symbol but more importantly because it resonates with our corporate mission of a lifetime for good”. Mr.Littaua is also a Trustee of the Philippine Eagle Foundation.

The Australian Embassy, represented by its First Secretary Ms. Kathlyn Gonzales also joined the well-wishers. “The Australian Embassy is proud to partner with the Philippine Eagle Foundation, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Local government of Buraeun, Leyte for this important work to protect the Philippine eagle and ensuring the sustainable management of the Philippines beautiful and natural resources. Just like the Philippine eagle, the friendship between Australia and the Philippines stands tall and firm, deeply rooted in our history and shared values,” she said. The Australian Embassy funded the feasibility studies that validated the suitability of Leyte as a new home for Uswag and Carlito.and also the livelihood and forest guard programs for two consecutive years.

Dr. Carl E. Balita, Chief Executive Officer echoed the same thought. “It takes a village to raise a child but now it takes the world to raise a pair of endangered Philippine eagle”, the CEO said in his message of support, and he went on urging everyone to actively participate in the preservation of the majestic Philippine.

A few key stakeholders from Leyte were also present. They too manifested their commitment.

Atty. Allan Barcena, Assistant Vice President and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility of the Energy Development Corporation assured the continued support from EDC.

“…through our geothermal facility here in Leyte, we will support the reintroduction of the Philippine eagle and rest assured that we will continue to protect their habitat of forest and watersheds. We will continue to work with the local communities to make sure that they are self-sustaining and self-reliant in order to help support the conservation programs not just of the DENR but the rest of the partner”, he said. The EDC will also sponsor the re-training and wildlife enforcement officer deputation of two forest guards (Bantay Kagurangan) from Kagbana.

Dr. Dennis De Paz, President of the Eastern Visayas State University, the biggest state-run university in the region, also expressed his support and alluded to the timeliness and relevance of the eagle release and the species and forest conservation that are its perquisites as a nature-based climate solution.

“….today’s activity come at the most appropriate time since we are already bearing the brunt of multiple challenges pose by massive climate change. So, today’s activity, the inaugural of the Philippine eagle release is a monumental, concrete, actionable initiative that solidifies our collective commitment to preserving this invaluable natural asset for economic and environmental well-being”, he said.

On June 27, PEF, EDC and EVSU entered into a Memorandum of Agreement for the establishment of a 4,000 square meter arboretum or tree park in the EVSU – Burauen Campus that will contain living specimens of Leyte’s endangered trees. The tree park will be open to the public both as a leisure and education space. On June 28, during the afternoon right after the eagle release, architects who are “place-making” Fellows from the Australian Embassy held a workshop to help design the arboretum.

Towards the end of the pre-release ceremony, the freeing of the eagles was greenlighted by a ceremonial removal of the “stop magnet” attached to the GPS trackers, which activated the GPS units and allowed it to transmit geographic readings of the eagles’ locations. Hon. Toni Loyzaga and Mr. Raoul Littaua removed each magnet from the transmitters.

Between 12:00 noon and 12:30 PM, Mr. Dennis I. Salvador, PEF’s Executive Director released Philippine Eagle Carlito, while Dr. Munir Virani, CEO of Mohamed bin Zayed Raptor Conservation Fund released Philippine Eagle Uswag. PEF Senior Animal Keeper Domini Tadena, and PEF Senior Biologist Ron Taraya, assisted in the eagle release, respectively.

A long list of dignitaries also supported and attended the release: Hon. Rodolfo Ecija, Barangay Chairman of Kagbana, Hon. Juanito E. Renomeron, Mayor of Burauen, Mr. Ivan Lerios, President, Rotary Club of Central Tacloban; Lt. Gen. (Ret) William K. Hotchkiss Chairman of Cantilan Bank and former President and Trustee of the PEF; Dr. Carl E. Balita, Chief Executive Officer, Carl Balita Review Center and Adopter of Philippine Eagle “Carlito”; Director Dr. Nielsen Donato, Host/Veterinarian, Born to be Wild of GMA, Ms Paulina Rayna, President of WEAVERS, Ms. Marjorie Pamplona of the Forest Foundation Philippines, DENR Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Marcial Amaro, Regional Executive Director Lormelyn Claudio of DENR 8, and Fr. Calvin Bugho of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

As of this writing, Eagles “Carlito” and “Uswag” were slowly moving towards the opposite ends of the Marabong Watershed, and they were seen by the forest guards in several occasions being mobbed by Southern rufous hornbills or “Kalaw”.

(From left to right: PEF Executive Director Mr. Dennis J. I. Salvador, Dr. Bayani Vandenbroeck, DVM, Mohamed Bin Zayed Raptor Conservation Fund CEO Dr. Munir Virani, Secretary of the DENR Hon. Ma. Antonia "Toni" Yulo-Loyzaga, Dr. Nielsen "Doc Nielsen" Donato, DVM, First Secretary of the Australian Embassy Ms. Kathlyn Gonzales, CEO of Carl E. Balita Review Center Dr. Carl E. Balita, PEF Conservation Breeding Manager Mr. Dominic Tadena, Insular Life Foundation, Inc. Vice Chairman Mr. Raoul Littaua, Mayor of Burauen Hon. Juanito Renomeron, and Representative of House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, Mr. Jonathan Alvara.)

(PEF Conservation Breeding Manager Dominic Tadena (front left) assists our Executive Director Mr. Dennis J. I. Salvador (front right) as they prepare to release Philippine Eagle Carlito)

(Mohamed Bin Zayed Raptor Conservation Fund CEO Dr. Munir Virani slowly releases Philippine Eagle Uswag, with the assistance of PEF Senior Biologist Rowell Taraya)

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