The Changeable Hawk-Eagle (pale morph) (Spizaetus cirrhatus) is a protected wild life species under the Protection of Wild Life Act 1972 of Peninsular Malaysia. Under this Act, no poaching, selling, pet-keeping, eating, killing or possessing of the bird dead or alive, including any body parts, is allowed. This includes taking or destroying nests or eggs. Flaunting the Act is punishable by law and liable to a penalty fine or term in jail or both.
Frequent bird surveillance of my local area confirms the sighting of a raptor roosting in a pulai or alstonia (Alstonia sp.) tree that is claimed by village owners to be more than 100 years old. Rising to more than 50 metres tall, the heart of the umbrella shaped canopy caresses an old raptor nest (above, arrowed), used and reused during the past 50 years, as believed by the villagers.
From this nest and hidden from public eye, generations of Changeable Hawk-Eagles were raised from hatching of an egg per clutch, and trained by their parents to fly and to prey for their survival.
“It is music to my ear” said a villager, whenever the raptors shrill with ascending, loud, high pitched whistles at dawn and at dusk to announce their iconic arrival to roost at the alstonia tree.
It was not long before development knocked on the front doors of villagers. They were persuaded to sell their tree and “pulai tree” as known to the villagers, became a hot topic of debate in the family living rooms.
As a frequent birder-visitor to the village, I was approached by a village elder to help save the tree and the avian occupants. He was a man with good hindsight. Living close to the alstonia tree, he would have much to lose as there would be risks of erosion and landslides, compromising lives of families living nearby, and mudflows into his property. His days of enjoying a cool evening breeze would be over and his living areas would be like a hot oven and raptors would shrill no more for his grandchildren to hear and know who these raptors were.
Felling the alstonia tree for a short term monetary gain is a poor vote as it cannot measure the immeasurable loss in the long run for the future welfare of the villagers. It is like selling one’s soul for a sack of rice. Evicting an old friend’s home and avian family of more than 50 years that has been living harmoniously and peacefully is a bad conscience one has to live with.
As requested by the village elder, I submitted a paper highlighting the importance of preserving the alstonia tree and the legality of protected species of avian wild life for the village family committee to deliberate upon. They decided on a positive vote.
Today, I am pleased to say, whenever I visit this village, the iconic alstonia tree with the Changeable Hawk-Eagle’s nest remain intact and looking tall as much as my pride. My presence in the village is made welcomed by the calls of the avian wild, smiles and greetings from villagers and children crowding to peep into my scope.
It is a warm and rewarding feeling. But for how long more is hard to say as developers have plans to turn this small pocket of multiracial village into a concrete jungle.
I was just simply taken there at the right time, right place and for the right purpose by divine intervention or whatever that one would choose to believe.
I was just passing through and perhaps… bought some time for the villagers to further reminiscent their childhood days, added value life to the 100 year old alstonia tree and an extended eviction grace period for the avian of the wild.
SUBMITTED BY: DAISY O’NEILL, PENANG, MALAYSIA