Pamana, a monkey-eating eagle rescued in the Philippines, was no ordinary bird. As a youngster, she'd beaten the odds to recover from two gunshot wounds, and after years of rehabilitation, was successfully released back into the wild. Sadly, what should have been a story of survival and hope for a rare and endangered species ended in tragedy last week with Pamana's death from yet another bullet injury – just two short months after her release.  

Pamana Eagle Carcass 2015 08 19

Monkey-eating eagles (Pithecophaga jefferyi), also known as great Philippine eagles, are critically endangered: only about 400 pairs still survive in strips of forest on four Philippine islands. That makes Pamana's death a major blow for conservationists working to protect the species. "The potential to teach people the importance of the eagles to wildlife and biodiversity has been compromised," Joseph Salvador, the executive director of the Philippine Eagle Foundation, told reporters

Staff at the foundation took on the task of rehabilitating the young bird back in 2012, after she was found with gunshot injuries to her wing and breast. Nicknamed Pamana (meaning "Heritage"), she faced a long road to recovery. That she made it to the rescue centre at all was a bit of a miracle: discovered weak and injured by locals who'd attempted to keep her alive on a diet of rice, she was finally turned over to wildlife officials only days later, and only after enduring a motorcycle journey with her legs and beak tied.     

Her long-awaited release back into the wild finally came on June 12 this year, to coincide with the country's Independence Day: Pamana would fly free in what the foundation hoped would be a symbolic act to highlight the plight of her species. A GPS satellite tag would allow biologists to keep tabs on her movements in real time, and hopes were high that she would go on to breed and help boost dwindling populations.

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Pamana was released in June this year. 

An update posted by the foundation just last month said she was doing well in the forests of the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary, close to the release site. "Her general demeanor seems to show that she has adjusted comfortably in her release environment," the team noted.

But on August 10, signals from Pamana's tracker switched to "mortality mode", indicating that her tracking unit had not moved for at least six hours. After days of searching, the team found her carcass just a kilometre from where she was released, with a bullet hole in the chest. A tiny metal fragment from what appeared to be a shattered gun pellet was later retrieved during a necropsy.

"Unfortunately, one person with a gun thinks he can shoot anything," Salvador said.

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A necropsy showed that the bird had died of a gunshot wound to the chest area.

As the name suggests, monkey-eating eagles have an appetite for macaques, but it's flying lemurs that make up most of their diet, and the opportunistic hunters will also feed on rats, snakes, birds and bats. One of the largest eagle species, they're also one of the most threatened raptors on the planet.

Since the 1970s, the Philippine Eagle Foundation has treated over 70 of the birds, most of them with injuries similar to Pamana's, and a few wounded by traps set up for wild boar and deer. But the most serious threat to the eagles' survival is habitat loss. With tree cover disappearing at an alarming pace, tiny populations are becoming trapped in "forest islands" surrounded by human activity – the perfect recipe for inbreeding.

In the wake of Pamana's death, the foundation has called for improved protections for endangered wildlife in the region and stricter law enforcement. If caught, the person responsible for the shooting could face up to 12 years in prison and a fine of up to 1 million pesos ($61,000). 

Top header image: Klaus Stiefel, Flickr