Philippine farmer who shot, ate rare eagle fined

Conservationists on Thursday slammed the "pathetic" fine handed to a Philippine farmer who shot and ate one of the world's rarest eagles, saying it could embolden other hunters.

In the first case brought under the country's 2001 wildlife act, Bryan Balaon, 26, was fined 100,000 pesos ($2,300), Philippine Eagle Foundation president Dennis Salvador said.

"We find the fine pathetic. He got off with a slap on the wrist," Salvador told AFP.

The fine handed down by a court Wednesday could encourage those who hunt the eagle for sport or to collect it as a trophy, he said.

"The victim is our national bird, our national heritage. I feel that we lost an opportunity here to send an important message against poachers and other people who commit crimes against nature," Salvador said.

It was not the first time the bird in question had fallen into the wrong hands.

In 2006 the government handed the creature to the foundation for rehabilitation after seizing it from a man who had shot it down and kept it as a caged pet with a shotgun pellet still lodged in its skull, Salvador said.

After rehabilitation the eagle was fitted with a radio transmitter and it was released back into the wild on Mount Kitanglad in the south of the country in March 2008.

But four months later the four-kilogram (8.8-pound) bird was shot dead, cooked and eaten.

The foundation discovered the crime by tracking the transmitter, which was buried at the bottom of a ravine.

The court ruled Balaon will be jailed if he cannot pay the fine. But the foundation, citing a copy of the court ruling, said no deadline had been set for payment.

Josefina de Leon, a senior official with the Environment Department's Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, told AFP the fine was the lowest punishment prescribed by the country's 2001 wildlife act.

The maximum punishment for poaching protected species is a 12-year prison term plus a fine of one million pesos.

The Philippine eagle, or Pithecophaga jefferyi, found only in the country's vanishing forests, is the world's largest eagle and is "critically endangered" with just 90-250 pairs left in the wild according to International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The raptor grows to 102 centimetres (3.35 feet) long and has a distinctive, shaggy and cream-coloured crest.

Court officials in Malaybalay city, where the hearing took place, and Balaon's lawyer could not be reached for comment.

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