April 13, 2021

Pandemic or Not, an Alumna’s Mission to Save the Philippine Eagle Marches On

In our series, Careers in Motion, we bring you interviews with alumni who are innovators, thought leaders and experts in their field. This month, you’ll meet anthropology grad Lohwana Halaq, BA’16, who travelled to the Philippines on an internship soon after she graduated and hasn’t left. Halaq now works as an animal keeper at the Philippine Eagle Foundation — the world’s only breeding and rehabilitation facility for the country’s national bird, one of the rarest raptors in the world.
Lohwana Halaq with a Philippine eagle
Alumna Lohwana Halaq works as an animal keeper at the Philippine Eagle Foundation.

Let’s start with a little fame — how did you wind up being featured in a National Geographic project?

Joel Sartore is a photographer with National Geographic who, along with his team, came to the PEF to photograph the Philippine eagle as part of Photo Ark [a 25-year documentary project that is out to save species and landscapes around the planet]. Joel also featured my juvenile Pinkser’s hawk-eagle in Photo Ark. It was my first successful eaglet that I hatched and raised. 

What does your workday consist of?

Working with animals is not your everyday “nine-to-five” type of job. Especially during breeding season, egg incubation, chick rearing and eagle physical checkups. It’s an around-the-clock type of job and consistently changes with the seasons. 

Every day, I have animal husbandry duties that include feeding animals and cleaning their enclosures. Afternoons consist of falconry practices with my eagles and owls. This is where I can track their progress and witness them in full flight. Sometimes, I go for walks with my eagle on my arm or just sit with them as this strengthens our bond and is necessary for training. Monkey feedings are my favourite time of the workday as it’s always a pleasure to see their personalities show during this time. 

Halaq with a Philippine eagle, the country's national bird

Halaq goes for walks with the eagles on her arm as this strengthens their bond and is necessary for training.

What do you like/dislike about your job?

Apart from being able to eat a lot of fresh coconuts, I get to directly contribute to Philippine eagle conservation, and I am honoured to have become the first woman in the history to flight-train the Philippine eagle. This is such a rare opportunity to have a relationship with the world’s largest bird of prey. Plus, I can apply my degree [primatology] by working directly with monkeys. Besides working with birds of prey, I am also the primate-keeper. I care for a troop of long-tailed macaques. As for dislikes . . . my six-day work week, regular brownouts, water shortages, and running water and electricity have become luxuries.

Why eagles?

Well, I may be biased, but I think the Philippine eagles, one of the largest birds of prey in the world, are the coolest of all eagles. They have a wingspan of two metres and can weigh up to eight kilograms. They have magnificent crest feathers on their heads which, when erect, can look like a crown.  In the Filipino dialect, these eagles are named haring ibon, meaning “king of birds.” I would describe them as fierce, powerful and regal. Not terrifying at all …

How has COVID-19 impacted your work?

The foundation had to temporarily close to the public in compliance with Philippine government mandates. However, lockdown was not an option for our animals, which meant that I continued to report to work despite the pandemic so that I could feed and care for my animals. Animal keepers became the conservation front-liners. 

Do you miss student life?

Yes, I loved the Primatology program at the University of Calgary. My classroom was the forests of Belize, where I collected behavioural data on howler monkeys. It was this fieldwork that solidified my passion in wildlife conservation and inspired me to continue my journey abroad with the Philippine Eagle Foundation!   

Any advice for new grads?

Travel. Experience another culture. Appreciate your heritage.