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Thursday, November 05, 2009

FIELD JOURNALS: The Philippine Eagle

There is a bird that haunts the remaining forest mountainsides of the Philippine island of Mindanao. People know it by various names; scientists christened it Pithecophaga - The Monkey-Eater; but the locals know it by another name: Haring Ibon - The King of Birds. 
Standing 1-metre tall and weighing over 6kg, the Philippine Eagle is described as being the most regal, tallest, and perhaps largest raptor in the world. It is said to have the longest wingspan amongst all other eagles - measuring over 2 metres. It is also one, if not the rarest and most endangered bird of prey in existence.
History recounts that this fiercely territorial bird may never have been common over the 4 islands it has been reported to inhabit. Breeding pairs mate for life, and require a territory of 100km2 to support themselves. For over 30 years there have been strong predictions of the Philippine Eagle’s impending extinction. In the mid-60's the bird was regarded as "definitely on the road to extinction", an event predicted to occur within the following 25 years. This together with an escalating rate of deforestation, and the birds only producing a single egg every two years, the fate of the eagle was apparently sealed.
But today the Philippine Eagle still survives. After the initial warnings by conservationists, more studies were undertaken, and eventually, the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) was formed, dedicated to the cause of conserving this national bird. The foundation operates from Davao, and is kept going by members’ contributions, and by grants from international and local sources. The PEF is managed by a group, fast gaining a reputation for their dogged determination to see the eagles' population increase and multiply.
A few years ago, I undertook a project to document the work of this resilient Foundation – featuring, at the heart of their conservation project – a single white 200g egg, cradled in the sterile confines of an incubator. After years of trials and tribulation, successes and heart-breaking failure – the culmination of all the foundation’s work had come to rest on this one egg.

The eighth to be hatched in their pioneering captive breeding project, the fate of the hatchling that emerged from this egg would be considerably different from its predecessors, who are now part of the foundation's captive bred population. Because, within a year of its birth, this eagle would be paired with a mate and released back into the wild.

This was to be the first ever attempted reintroduction, and the path to success would be laid with many challenges. Philippine Eagles are notoriously difficult to keep in captivity; with infection and physical ailments looming every step of the way. And then of course, the eaglets would have to be re-taught the instincts that they had lost in captivity. Doming Tadena, deputy director of the captive breeding operation, and surrogate father to all of these isolated babies, will teach his ‘children’ to become increasingly detached to people, encouraging them to cultivate their wild distrust of humans. From the time of its birth the eaglet will have no direct contact with humans, and even during feeding time, it will only see the face of its surrogate mother, a hand puppet of an adult eagle.


Dennis Salvador, executive director of the Foundation, would also have to shift his campaigning work into a higher gear. In preparing the eagles for the wild, he must work closely with the communities in the uplands of Mindanao, providing them with the impetus to undertake their own local forest conservation. The Foundation encourages these slash and burn farmers to switch from their destructive habits, to more stable methods of agriculture – a process as important as the groundbreaking captive breeding work, because without the forests, the eagles lose their habitats - and that's a sure way of losing them forever.

Ultimately the day came when, Kabayan, the chick born in November 2002, was released back to the wild on Earth Day, April 22nd 2004.
Settling into the forests of the country's highest peak, the juvenile eagle was observed to be practicing his hunting skills constantly, performing mock attacks on sticks and branches and occasionally attempting to hunt for small prey items like lizards and rats. He was reported to have been interested in a pack of monkeys but failed in his pursuit as they scurried for cover in the trees.

All was looking well for this pioneering eagle, but just a year later, and he was dead - accidentally electrocuted as he perched on a live electricity pylon.
All that effort, all that hope - lost in a moment's miscalculation...
But the true success of this project lies not in the release of this single bird, but in the lessons learned from its brief return to the wild, and the exploits of its successors, and hopefully their eventual offspring – born, raised, and soaring free in the wild.
Only then will the Philippine Eagle Foundation raise their hands in victory. But until then, the fate of this King of Raptors remains one of the most important species-conservation issues on the planet.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

FULL VIDEO: Season of the Spirit Bear

Just a quick note to let you all know that I have uploaded the entire Spirit Bear documentary onto YouTube.

Because of the site's requirements, I had to divide the show up into smaller bite-sized peices, six parts in all.

But if you click on this playlist, you can watch the entire documentary uninterrupted:



Enjoy!

Cheers,
Charith

Friday, June 12, 2009

VIDEO: Saving Sarawak's Turtles

A few years ago, I travelled to Sarawak in East Malaysia to find out more about a local conservation project to save the Green Turtle.

Now I have finally managed to edit together and upload a short video snippet of what we saw and the work being done by Sarawak Forestry to ensure the future of this species.

I was extremely fortunate to meet Park Ranger, Christopher Kri who is heading the project. Rarely do I meet a naturalist so in love with their animal wards. Chris' obvious concern and care for the turtles was infectious, and I came away with a much deeper appreciation of this enigmatic animal.

(Chris deserves to be in his own documentary btw - an idea I will continue to work on!)

Here is Part 1:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

VIDEO: Season of the Spirit Bear

Now that its been a couple of years since it was first broadcast on Animal Planet, I've finally got round to posting the first part of our documentary, "Season of the Spirit Bear".

Ironically its almost 3 years this month that we were out there filming our furry friends!

Enjoy!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tears for the Turtles

A few years ago, while I was still filming and working in Sri Lanka, I spent a memorable couple of nights in the company of new-borne Olive Ridley turtles, emerging from the sand and scurrying for the safety of the waves.



Since then I have filmed several more turtle species in other parts of Asia - but this first encounter with wild turtles was the most poignant, and the tragedy was that back then, the hunting of turtles for their meat and eggs was rampant, plunging the population of all five species that come to breed on Sri Lanka's shores - into fast decline.


Although hunting turtles still occurs in coastal areas, new legislation and increased awareness of their plight is putting a slight dent on the numbers being slain, the activity continues - illegaly.
Back in 1998, after my wonderous encounter with those newborne turtles, I was compelled to write this in the national press - but be warned, my description of the slaying is quite graphic...



"The greatest of tragedies is the slaughter of the turtles themselves. This activity is illegal, but the extent of turtle killing, like the collection of their eggs, is island- wide and out of sight. A turtle's temperament makes it easy prey to the fisherman's net.

With few natural predators in adulthood, it flees from the approach of a catamaran with a certain reluctance. And once in the boat, its fate is sealed.


Onshore, the animal is flipped on to its back. Powerless and unable to act against its oppressors, the turtle flails pathetically at the air with useless flippers. A man will come close, and using a sharp curving blade, will prise the protective ventral carapace from its body.

As the blood spills, the same knife is used to dissect portions of the living flesh from the dying animal.


And the flesh quivers as it is removed; holding on to the last pulse of life until it finally drains away with the blood and the salt water, into the sand.

A long line of smiling villagers wait to take their share. Through it all, the turtle makes no sound. The flailing limbs will move with less energy, until they are defunct and quite still.

The turtle's eyes will stare, fathomless and glazed.
Mucus, saline tears will weep through the ordeal, and long after its life has been taken. An empty shell will lie abandoned on the shore; and scavengers will take their pick.

Inhuman and yet so typical of us. We find it difficult to accept that we are capable of such barbarism. It is much easier to turn the page and forget the words. A mouth is fed for one day. A life is lost forever."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Papua - new artwork



My latest - in pastel
65 x 55 cm

Papua New Guinea tribesmen in ceremonial chant

Friday, February 06, 2009

A Glorious encounter...

I was thrilled to discover this wonderful Gloriosa superba in bloom in Pulau Ubin - a small island off the coast of Singapore...



The last time I saw one growing in the wild was in the Yala National Park in Sri Lanka!

The plant has such an array of mystical and medicinal properties - and I know was also used to poison enemies in the heady days of pre-Raj era Sri Lanka...


What a wonderful name: literally meaning 'handsome' and 'superb'...
What a nice way to start off the year...