Philippines mourns eagle that became a symbol

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'DIOLA is dead,' announced a death-notice in the Mindanao Daily Mirror this week. While the rest of the Philippines focused on the dead in last week's unseasonal typhoon, people in Davao, the biggest city on the southern island of Mindanao, were in mourning for an eagle.

Diola, the 25-year-old female Philippines eagle that died last Saturday, was more than just a bird. As the first tropical eagle to be artificially inseminated and produce offspring in captivity, it had become a symbol of nature's survival in the Philippines. So dire is the ecological devastation in the country, which loses about 200,000 trees a year to loggers as well as countless coral reefs to dynamite fishing, that some politicians are trying to make the eagle the national symbol.

In the 1930s an estimated 10,000 Philippines monkey- eating eagles (Pithecophaga jefferyi) were soaring over the forests here. A decade ago, because of deforestation, their numbers were down to fewer than 500. Now there are only 63 left - 16 in captivity and 47 spotted in the wild. The monkey-eating eagle is not found anywhere else.

'Illegal logging is still going on: if they can't keep the forests, the eagle will go too,' said Eddie Juntilla, head keeper at the Philippines Eagle Foundation's park outside Davao City. Not only wildlife suffers from deforestation, he points out: 'It is also a major cause of the mud-slides that kill dozens of people every monsoon season.'

The Philippines eagle is one of the world's biggest, with a 7ft wing-span and a weight of 5kg to 9kg. Wide- breasted, with brown wings, it eats monkeys, lemurs, bats and snakes. Its talons have a grip three times stronger than man's and it can break a monkey's neck or crush a snake's skull with ease. Because of their declining numbers, the Philippines Eagle Foundation had been trying for 14 years to breed eagles artificially. It finally succeeded in 1992, when Diola had two offspring: Pagasa (Hope) and Pakakaisa (Unity).

'Everyone is sad that Diola died,' said Mr Juntilla. But now we know how to breed the eagles in captivity, we think we have a chance of stopping them dying out.'

Whether or not the eagles bred in captivity can be returned to forests in the wild is, however, out of his hands. Unless the government puts an end to illegal logging, the Eagle Foundation estimates the Philippines will have no forests left to sustain eagles by the turn of the century.