Last Refuge for the Philippines' "King of the Birds"
There can only be one - the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is known in the local language as haribon, the king of the birds. The monarch of the Philippines' forest canopies is a massive specimen indeed - its maximum wingspan exceeds 7 feet, all the better to help it hunt monkeys, monitor lizards and hornbills.
Despite its size, the Philippine Eagle is in trouble. Habitat loss - the gradual encroachment of slash-and-burn farmers and illegal loggers into the forests covering parts of the Philippines - has reduced the haribon's numbers drastically. Eagle populations in the wild are hanging on for dear life, with numbers hovering between 180 and 500.
To prevent the eagle from going the way of the dodo, a captive breeding program was established in Davao City - one that eventually evolved into the Philippine Eagle Center, a park/zoo/nursery dedicated to breeding Philippine eagles with the eventual goal of reintroducing them into the wild.
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Exploring the Philippine Eagle Center Grounds
The Philippine Eagle Center is an eight-hectare parcel of rainforest that now shelters the only captive community of Philippine eagles. While the breeding centers are off-limits to most tourists, the rest of the park that is accessible to the public provides a captivating introduction to the avian wildlife native to the Philippines.
Paths criss-crossing through the park lead guests to massive aviaries containing single eagles; smaller cages are reserved for other endemic eagles and birds. The rest of the animal kingdom gets some representation here, too - a monkey enclosure shelters a raucous community of macaques, and a giant crocodile sleeps soundly in an enclosure close to the entrance.
The displays and enclosures are nowhere near the quality you'll find in the Singapore Zoo. Made of chickenwire, wood and concrete, the center's cages are too conspicuous and too cruel-looking. The exceptions here are the large, towering aviary duplexes - twinned enclosures holding one male and one female each, with the goal of turning them into mating pairs.
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Tours and Activities at the Philippine Eagle Center
The park succeeds in its goal of serving as an awareness-propagating mechanism for the eagle's cause. For about 20 years now, the Philippine Eagle Center has educated schoolchildren, tourists, and Philippine big shots on the need to preserve the haribon and its habitat. Today, about 100,000 visitors tour the center yearly.
A free guided tour of the facilities can be arranged in advance (book early to make sure a guide is available; contact details are on the next page). Bigger groups can arrange for a lecture on the many programs being undertaken on the premises, including its captive breeding program and the field research being undertaken on the last eagles remaining in the wild.
A scheduled "Keeper Talk" is also on offer, where a caretaker will give a short lecture about the eagle, the center, and their work. A falconry demonstration can also be arranged, for guests who want to see smaller raptors in action.
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Getting to the Philippine Eagle Center
The Philippine Eagle Center is located to the far southwest of Davao's main city center, where the land slopes gently upward in anticipation of Mount Talomo and Mount Apo further in the distance. (Location on Google Maps)
Getting here takes some doing: if you can't score a rented car or van, take public transportation. You can either take a van from the terminal in Bangkerohan (location on Google Maps) to take you up to the town of Calinan, where you can transfer to a tricycle that will take you to the "Water District"; the Philippine Eagle Center is a short walk from this point on. The whole trip will take you between 40 minutes to 1 hour to complete.
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The Center is located within the bigger property covering the Davao City Water District. An entrance fee is due upon entering the DCWD gate, PHP 5 for adults and PHP 3 for children. From the gate, walk through the large central plaza to the other end - the gravel road goes downhill before terminating at the Center's entrance.
The Philippine Eagle Center charges an entrance fee of PHP 50 for adults and PHP 30 for guests 18 years old and below.