By Alexander Villafania
DAVAO CITY, DAVAO DEL SUR–There’s a clear difference between a zoo and an animal sanctuary. A zoo is where wild animals are kept in cages for public viewing while an animal sanctuary primarily aims to preserve animals from becoming extinct. In most cases, it is closed from public view.
The Philippine Eagle Center (PEC) in Davao is one sanctuary that can be treated as a zoo. It is one of the most publicly accessible animal sanctuaries around and it is home to one of the rarest, most magnificent animals anywhere in the world, the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi).
There are at least 36 Philippine Eagles here, plus ten other species of birds. The entrance free is only P50 for adults and P30 for those 18 years and below.
The center is also home to the Philippine Eagle Foundation, the focal agency tasked to protect and breed the Philippine eagle to prevent its extinction. The Philippine eagle’s population is so low–around 500 mature individuals–that it has landed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) list of critically endangered species.
Built in 1987 after successful programs to conserve the Philippine eagle, the center is one of the popular attractions in Davao and probably anywhere in the Philippines.
Situated near the foot of Mount Apo, the PEC is safely nestled from the noise and lights of nearby Davao city.
Aside from being a scientific conservation facility, the center welcomes public visitors like a regular park.
A short walk in this park would lead to the PEC, which has a few, well-maintained buildings that are engulfed in forest trees as if they were part of the forest itself. A flight of stairs leads to the main reception area where visitors can partake of some coffee and snacks or buy items at a small souvenir shop.
Across a small lagoon, connected by a three-pronged bridge, is the office of the Philippine Eagle Foundation. From the reception area, visitors can already hear the caws and screech of birds.
There are several paths going into the main facility that cut through the dense mahogany forest.
After reaching a clearing, one would already see the aviaries for the Philippine eagles. Some of these cages are high up on a hill and these are where the breeding pairs are kept safe from flashes of cameras from visitors.
Visitors can still approach “Mindanao,” a tame, adult Philippine eagle who has become a familiar staple for eager photographers who want an image of an uncaged bird.
Mindanao’s handler, a man named Mario Entrolizo, often takes close up photos for other people.
There are other species of birds in the park. Some of them are the serpent eagle, Philippine scops owl, Brahminy kites, white bellied eagles, and Pinkser’s hawk eagle. A saltwater crocodile is also cared for in the facility, and there are also enclosures for a herd of Philippine brown deer, macaques, and a wild boar.
Upon request, some visitors can be brought to a specific location to see a huge colony of golden-crowned flying fox hanging on a particularly tall mahogany.
If you’re hoping for some quiet learning experience about one of the country’s most magnificent animals, do pass by the Philippine Eagle Center on your next visit in Davao.
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