Keeper of the eagles

Reuel John F. Lumawag

THE Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) in the past decades have been working hard in preserving the raptor it is named after.

However, the conservation efforts of PEF would not be successful without the help of the people who work tirelessly day and night to uplift the status of the great Philippine Eagle.

One of them is Eddie V. Juntilla, PEF senior animal keeper. He has been with PEF the last 30 years helping out the rearing of the eagles throughout their lifecycle -- from the day they are born to the day they are ready to mate to the day they lay an egg.

"Nagsugod ko tung naa pa mi dati sa Baracatan, Toril tung 1985 (I started in 1985 when the foundation was still in its old location in Baracatan, Toril, Davao City)," said Manong Eddie, as he is fondly called.

He begins his work as early as 6 a.m. where he starts to socialized with the eagles under his care.

Manong Eddie delves into a number of tasks that will help preserve and protect the future of these great raptors.

He said as the senior animal keeper, he is focused in the care of the Philippine Eagles. At present he is caring for 11 eagles -- four imprint male, three imprint females, and two natural pairs.

Manong Eddie said one of the most challenging part of his job is dealing with aggressive eagles, particularly the females, which are much larger than the males.

He recalls a time when it was his first time to deal with one aggressive female when they had to transfer her as her cage needs repair.

"Hadlok siya kay primero pa nako to siya (It was scary then because it was my first time to do it)," Manong Eddie said, adding that despite the aggressiveness of the female eagle, they were able to safely catch her and put her in a different cage.

Manong Eddie also plays an important role in the captive breeding of the eagles as it is also part of his job to harvest semen from the imprint males and inseminate it into the imprint females.

He said these imprinted male and female eagles are isolated from humans and other eagles so their attention can only be directed to him.

"What I do is four to five times ako musulod sa ilang kulungan kada adlaw. Mao na ang routine until mag-start na ang breeding season. Mag-expect ang agila nga ako ang iyang surrogate partner (I enter their cages four to five times a day. That is the routine until the breeding season. So the eagle will expect that I am his or her surrogate partner)," Manong Eddie said.

He said every time he enters the eagle's cage, he wears a leather jacket with a hood to protect himself.

As the surrogate partner of the eagles, he provides the nesting materials for the male eagle so he can build a nest bowl. It is the other way around for the female eagle, he will be the one to build the nest bowl this time.

It is a different story when it comes to the natural pairs.

"Dili mi pwede makasulod. Mag-record lang mi ug mupakaon nila (We cannot go inside their cages. We can only record what we see or feed them)," Manong Eddie said, adding that entering the cage of the natural pairs can disturb them.

He said during the breeding season, they provide the natural pairs with nesting materials but these are placed in the cages during night when the eagles are less active. Likewise, they also clean the pairs' cages at night.

When the eagles lay fertilized eggs, Manong Eddie also has the task to bring these to the incubator.

Manong Eddie said one of the exciting things about his job is watching the eggs hatch.

"After mag-hatch, ako pud mag-prepare sa piso. Ako pud pakaon sa chick," he said.

Manong Eddie said he is not the only one caring for the chicks. There could be up to three persons who would care for it.

Manong Eddie has his hands full every day in caring for what is considered a symbol of Davao City, the Philippine Eagle. While it may sound tiring or complex for some of us, what he does will ensure that the future generations will still be able to appreciate and see this great raptor.