Saving birds for future generations

Subscribe Now October 13, 2012 at 02:21pm

"AS A young veterinarian I was challenged by them to work with injured birds," says Dr. Roberto "Bo" Puentespina Jr. "Part of the rehabilitation is to exercise and make the bird fly again. You learn to patiently bond with the birds, and learn the basic principles of falconry." Dr. Bo is a veterinarian by profession. He is one of the very few Filipinos who are experts in wildlife medicine. He got interested in birds while doing a research for a Parasitology subject. This was in 1988, when he visited the Philippine Eagle Conservation Center at the slopes of Mount Apo. There, he met a dedicated bunch of workers determined to study the eagle.

Since 1991, Dr. Bo has been rescuing birds - those victims by gunshot and entrapment, illegal wildlife trade, malnutrition, parasitism, and orthopedic cases. "I do rescue trips for downed eagles in far flung areas in Mindanao," he says. "I use any available resources and contacts, and travel anywhere - even high-risk areas - by land or air to get them."

He is very much displeased with the current status of the birds in the country. "Birds are major agents of seed dispersal," he points out. "The birds which eat fruits such as the hornbills, spread indigestible fruit seeds in the process, dispersing them as they move around the forest."

Dr. Bo is so engrossed with his rescue work that at one time, he almost missed taking his wife to the hospital to give birth, as he was working late with eagle cases. "When I got home, I barely had enough time to rest when she complained of birthing symptoms and had to rush to the hospital," he recalls. "She gave birth to our third child soon after."

In 2002, Dr. Bo staged the Amazing Bird Show to people who come to Malagos Garden Resort in Baguio District, Calinan, about an hour from the heart of Davao City. It features 200 birds from 20 different species trained to perform either individually or as a group. Spectators get the opportunity of listening to some of the birds singing and watching others play basketball and ride a scooter. A few go through hoops, dance, pick up trash, and interact with the audience.

According to him, he can catch the attention of those who visit the resort, which his family owns, through the birds, which he has rescued or given by owners for adoption. "By doing so, I will not only raise the awareness campaign in saving our birds but also using the birds as biological indicators of what is happening to our environment."

The Philippines is the home of nearly 172 species that are not found anywhere else in the world. "Unfortunately, half of these species are under the threat of extinction," deplored Dr. Theresa Mundita Lim, Director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The reason: the destruction of their habitat - the tropical rainforest. "Our natural forests have gone down from 17 million hectares in the early 1900s to less than one million hectares of primary natural forests today. The rate of destruction is very alarming that one day, the future Filipino generations may be deprived of natural resources," said Blas Tabaranza Jr., Haribon's chief operating officer.

The bird show became one of the resort's attractions. So much so that in October 2004, he brought it all the way from Davao City to the Ninoy Aquino Wildlife Center in Quezon City. "We wanted to bring the bird show to a wider audience," he explains. "It is an alternative form of entertainment that we want to offer in Metro Manila. This is a show by the Filipinos, for the Filipinos."

The bird show in Metro Manila was supposed to last for three months. But the dreaded bird flu hit the country. Many didn't come to see the show fearing for their lives. Many thought a flu pandemic would happen.

Dr. Bo was disheartened but not beaten. He brought back the bird show to Davao and some few months after the bird flu scare died down, people from the city and nearby provinces flocked to the amphitheatre where the bird show was staged.

Last year, Dr. Bo integrated some issues on climate change and disaster risk mitigation into the show. It was his way of raising awareness among the audience about the current issue of the century: global warming.

"We want our bird show to be relevant in light of present environmental realities," he says. "Climate change and disaster risk mitigations are concepts that need to be taught if we want to survive."

Disasters occur anywhere, anytime. In 2010, the World Disasters Report said that over 304 million people were affected by natural disasters during the year and nearly 300,000 lost their lives.

"In recent years, climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of some weather-related hazards," writes Bob Hansford, disaster risk management advisor at Teafund, a Christian relief and development agency based in United Kingdom. "Faster snow melts, rising sea levels and unpredictable weather patterns have increased flooding and droughts."

To lessen the impact of disasters and the loss of lives, disaster risk management is a necessary. "Disasters often recur in the same place - annually or with a gap of some years," Hansford explains. "Once the immediate needs in a disaster area have been met, the work of reconstruction begins. This is accompanied by learning from the experience of the disaster and planning to reduce the risk of future disasters."

At least twelve hectares of the 40-hectare resort is considered a bird park to shelter rescued and rehabilitated birds. It also serves as a center for breeding endangered local avian species.

"We release birds that can be released after rehab, especially raptors like owls, serpent eagles, kites, and crows," he says. Those that cannot be released due to broken wing or leg or blindness, he pairs them for conservation purposes.

The last option is to use the birds for the bird show as part of his education efforts. "The number of birds I have adopted after rehabilitation has grown - from raptors to parrots to jungle fowls," he says.

Dr. Bo also brings some of the birds he uses in his bird show when he visits the children's ward in the House of Hope at the Southern Philippine Medical Center in Davao. "He is very passionate about what he is doing," says Dr. Mae Dolendo, the pediatric oncologist who heads the ward. "Many of the birds under his care were injured and rehabilitated. He was able to inspire the children -- who have cancer -- from stories of bravery and tenacity shown by birds," he says.

Dr. Bo's future plans: "I hope to use the platform of the business community, through my involvement as a trustee of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry to inspire land development investors, agricultural farms to recognize the importance of preserving Davao biodiversity, using birds or wildlife in general, as indicators of what is happening to our environment.


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