Our first “hatchday” celebration experience was awesome! We drove up an hour to the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC) from the city proper (Davao) expecting that we would see eaglets hatch! Of course, it was this naïve homeschool mama’s idea of a hatchday that set that expectation for the family. The banner that read “Happy Hatchday Pag-asa” with the photo of the 26-year-old Philippine eagle immediately told us we were mistaken.
Twenty-six years ago, Pag-asa hatched in captivity. He was the first Philippine eagle to be successfully bred by biologists and conservationists after nearly two decades of trying. So, a “hatchday” is the bird equivalent of a human birthday. We were actually invited to a party! Pag-asa’s hatchday has become a tradition that bird watchers, nature-lovers, teachers, students, and the in-house scientists and volunteers at the PEC hold every year. Rightfully celebrated, Pag-asa, as his name suggests, is the epitome of hope for the Philippine eagle and biodiversity of the Philippine forests. The scientists and the entire Philippine eagle conservation project were nearly deemed a failure because it took so long before the first eaglet was successfully hatched at the center. Hope was birthed when Pag-asa was finally hatched!
I asked Rai Gomez, the Education Administrator of the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), why we should even bother conserving the Philippine eagle. Her gentle reply but firm explanation was quite gripping. Rai said, “Because they are also part of creation and they help maintain the balance of nature. Philippine eagles are the largest predators in our forests. The Philippines has no predators like tigers that keep animal and plant populations in check. God blessed us with the Philippine eagle. Without them, their usual prey would uncontrollably grow in number and it will eventually affect the whole ecosystem, including us humans.” With only an estimated 400 pairs left in the wild, the Philippine eagle is now critically endangered!
The website of the Philippine Eagle Foundation gives a summary of reasons why we need to protect the bird:
- It is found nowhere else except in the Philippines where it is the country’s national bird. Losing the species to extinction would also mean losing a nation’s precious biological heritage.
- It represents a rare product of evolutionary creation. Based on recent genetic studies, it has no close relatives left among the living species of eagles in the world. Losing them would mean an irreversible loss of a unique species.
- The Philippine Eagle is the top predator of the Philippine tropical rainforest. It plays an important role in keeping the ecosystem in balance and provides an umbrella of protection to all other life forms in its territory.
- The Philippine Eagle is embedded in the oral histories and other cultural artefacts of several indigenous groups in the country. This indicates that it performs a role in the human production of unique cultures.
- Economically, the presence of a healthy eagle population can also be a source of livelihood for the communities living near its area such as eco- tourism. Additionally, a healthy forest helps control soil erosion, mitigate the effects of climate change, minimize flooding, and provides additional sources of food, medicine, clothing, and shelter for our people.
I was reminded of the song “Circle of Life,” in the movie “The Lion King.” Whatever happens to one species in our ecosystem affects all of us. Unfortunately, we humans fail to recognize this interconnectedness in nature and we do not care as much as we should.
Our homeschool that day was spent in an open classroom. It was also spent getting acquainted with nature once again, through the help of our teacher who simply asked to be called Kuya Kenjie. Armed with binoculars, a nature journal and a guide book to Philippine birds, we (parents and kids from Lighthouse Homeschool Network and Homeschool Global) went around the center searching for birds hovering around the trees while learning about the birds that were either bred or rescued and treated in the center. The raptors (birds of prey like eagles, hawks, and owls) were rescued from the wild, freed from poachers’ snares or saved after being fatally wounded by a hunter’s bullet.
Personally, I didn’t think that this day would have an impact on the kids. But their many questions and the drawings on their journals revealed a great sense of curiosity and affinity to the birds. Kuya Kenjie patiently answered questions ranging from what do the birds eat to the meaning of the sounds the birds make to the size of eagles’ nests to the birds’ mating rituals to why people hunt these beautiful creatures. The kids’ curiosity was insatiable and their excitement upon bird sightings was a wonderful thing!
The tour ended with our homeschool group gathering around a hatchday cake and singing “Happy hatchday to you, Pag-asa!” The youngest kids in the group blew the candles on the cake and everyone had some snacks to close the day. Before going home, my ten-year-old daughter Himig signified her desire to help at the PEC. “I’ve always wanted to volunteer in an animal rescue center, Mom! Here’s my chance.” She dreams of adopting a raptor one day.
Our family is now preparing for yet another hatchday. This time, it’s Mabuhay’s 5th hatchday! Mabuhay is Pag-asa’s offspring, also bred in captivity. She is another testimony to hope and life. Happening on February 9 and beginning at 8:00am, Mabuhay’s hatchday is an exciting kiddie party with lots of fun activities like storytelling, biodiversity lessons, nature art workshops, and games. It’s an excellent outdoor classroom experience for the family!
For more details on the upcoming celebration, you may email [email protected] and text or call 09177089084. To know more how you can be part of saving the Philippine eagle, visit http://www.philippineeaglefoundation.org.