MANILA, November 25, 2002 (STAR) By Katherine Adraneda - A fungal infection did what a bullet could not.

"Amianan," the 2.5-foot tall Philippine eagle rescued in Isabela three weeks ago which underwent surgery to remove a bullet in the chest, succumbed to a virulent fungal infection Friday morning, Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) assistant director Mundita Lim said yesterday.

Christened Amianan (Ilocano word for "north") by Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Heherson Alvarez, the raptor died primarily of an Aspergillosis infection, Lim said.

The initial autopsy report on the eagle’s remains showed that the fungal infection was aggravated by the bullet wound the bird had sustained.

"I am saddened that we could only prolong Amianan’s life for so many days. We would have wanted to extend it further, but the bird’s natural strength and resistance, supplemented by our own human intervention, could no longer win over the swift deterioration of its health brought about by a number of medical conditions — any of which would have caused certain death," Alvarez said.

The eagle, Lim said, was also diagnosed to have tuberculosis or multiple respiratory infections for quite some time. Further blood tests conducted at the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City showed the eagle had a high white blood cell count and that the blood contained 0.1 micrograms of lead. Lead is toxic at 0.2 micrograms.

Lim also said veterinary specialists found hard nodules or lumps in the bird’s air sacs. These lumps spread to the eagle’s heart and indicated chronic infections that developed over a long period of time.

"We thought Amianan was in relatively good condition after we were able to successfully treat its bullet wound and gastroenteritis. But, despite the vitamin-rich diet we were feeding Amianan and the anti-fungal medication, the bird did not gain weight at all, owing to the disease, which was already in its advanced stage. (The) infection was worse than we had ever imagined," Lim said.

Alvarez immediately ordered the preservation of Amianan’s internal organs, which will be kept at PAWB for further studies. Its feathers, meanwhile, will be mounted for educational purposes and as "a testament to man’s greed," he said.

According to a study, Aspergillosis is the most common fungal infection in birds and is caused when birds inhale the spores of the aspergella fungus when the fungus fumigates. The infection often afflicts birds of prey, like the Philippine eagle, and is difficult to diagnose by means other than autopsy.

Veterinarian Hannis Stoddard, author of the study, said that although birds are commonly exposed tot he aspergella spores, they develop the Aspergillosis only under certain conditions, such as when the bird’s immune system is suppressed by a concurrent illness, injuries such as gunshot wounds, environmental changes or capture.

At this point, Alvarez renewed his appeal for the public not to harm priceless living "national treasures" like the Philippine eagle — which is the national bird and a symbol of the republic.

Amianan was found shot in the chest in Isabela on Oct. 25 and was caught in a pig trap by a certain Mr. Wangit at Mt. Susong Dalaga in San Mariano town, Isabela and was being offered for sale, initial reports of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said.

The eagle was rescued with the help of the Philippine Wood Producers Association (PWPA) based in Isabela and was turned over to the DENR officer in Palanan town.

On Oct. 31, the raptor was brought to the DENR-PAWB Rescue Center. On Nov. 6, Amianan underwent surgery to extract the caliber .22 slug from its chest at the Birds International Inc. (BII) avian farm owned by Antonio de Dios. De Dios is a known bird aficionado with a world-class avian hospital specializing in parrot breeding at Doña Carmen subdivision in Fairview, Quezon City.

The Philippine eagle, also known as the monkey-eating eagle because of its predilection of simian prey, is considered a rare species. It has a seven-foot wingspan and is capable of carrying off a full-grown goat, money or dog and was declared the Philippines’ National bird under Proclamations No. 615 by then President Fidel Ramos.

Scientifically known as Pithecophaga jefferyi, the Philippine Eagle is the largest raptor in the country and is the second largest bird of prey in the world after Central America’s Harpey’s Eagle. The Philippine eagle is known to breed and make its home on only four islands in the Philippine archipelago — Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao.

The DENR blamed the decimation of the Philippine eagle on the denudation of the country’s forests, which now cover less than 20 percent of the 14 million hectares which was the raptor’s habitat 40 years ago.

The DENR said there are now less than 200 Philippine agles in the wild, while some 50 eagles are being kept in different breeding facilities in the country as the effort to raise the eagle population to viable levels continues.

The Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos district in Davao City keeps about 20 eagles, 11 of which it produced by artificial insemination.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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