Queen of the Jungle part 4

The Queen of the Jungle
Part Four

With both eagles coming off the perches to the lure, the next phone update with Cornell was going to be a much more pleasant conversation, the project was a go. Now I know what you’re thinking, jumping off their perches to the lure is a far cry from flying free in the jungle and you would be right. So the next step was to see if they would fly off my fist to the lure outside of their chambers.
Mabuhay was showing more and more aggressive behavior, she didn’t want to share the lure at all. In fact, she was well on her way to becoming dangerous to work with; even with all the equipment on her she was a serious handful. Given more time I could overcome her aggression, but time was a little short these days. I don’t recall if I mentioned this but, when being filmed, all equipment needed to be removed, so I would have zero control of either eagle when on location. Think about that for a second… if Mabuhay saw something she might want to kill and eat, I would not be able to stop her, and the list of things she could kill and eat is terrifying. Imbulog, on the other hand, went from an eagle that I thought was a little ‘slow’ to a star, being attentive and focused.
Neil and I talked at length about the idea of flying Mabuhay loose in the jungle with no control of her and both came to the same conclusion — we could not risk turning what is essentially a velociraptor loose anywhere near anything alive (small children, monkey island, etc.). So we decided to turn her chamber into a jungle set and film her inside. Using small bits of meat to entice her, I could get her to do lots of stuff, flying and hitting the marks. One behavior that Neil wanted to film was her putting her leg down a tree cavity searching for something to eat, as they do in the wild.
The day we turned her chamber into a jungle set, the crew (which included my wife, Cordi, and our youngest daughter, Christine) cut branches and fronds and covered the cyclone fencing of her chamber. Eric Liner, the other cinematographer, had found a stump with a cavity in it, perfect for what Neil wanted, and propped it up to look like a real tree. It looked great, especially since all the shots would be close-up. That’s the movies – make it happen! Since we needed to remove Mabuhay’s big perch that she had been tethered to for training purposes, we had to remove all of her equipment and turn her loose before starting the dress-up of her chamber. My job was to stand between the crew and Mabuhay, who was wearing no equipment, and prevent her from attacking them. I remember saying, “What am I supposed to do to stop her, other than yell here she comes…. look out!”? Just for the record, I would have stopped her at all cost.
In the end, Mabuhay did everything we asked of her and, more importantly, didn’t kill anyone or anything. We returned her chamber to the original state and I gave her a nice big rabbit for her troubles.
Imbulog was now our total focus. We needed him free-flying out in the wild jungle ASAP. At the same time, you can only rush things so much because you run the risk of losing the trust you have built up. The first big step was to get him to feed out in the open, away from his chamber. What better place than to bring him down into the public area of the eagle foundation. The grounds are like a meandering garden, with pathways leading to different eagle and animal enclosures. There I was, taking baby steps down a path with a Philippine eagle perched on my arm; you don’t see that everyday. I carried him, oh so carefully, to a nice little out-of-the-way corner; I didn’t want to overload him all at once. Remember, he was not hooded, which made the trip a nail-biter. The last thing I wanted was for him to freak out and take some steps backward.
When I reached the chair set there for me and sat down, the crew was all there messing with cameras, just as I wanted. After all, he needed to get used to that. All I wanted was for Imbulog to eat on the fist out in the open, it sounds so simple, right! So I was sitting there trying to entice Imbulog to eat, which he was just about to do, when, out of nowhere, comes a lovely Japanese family walking straight to me and put their arms around me wanting a photograph with the eagle and me. I thought any second all hell was going to break loose; Imbulog was going to lose his mind. But wait, he wasn’t really reacting to all this, awesome! The family got some great pictures. Come to find out, they were there from my hometown in San Mateo, California and lived not far from the hospital where I was born. We all meet in the Philippines, go figure!
Okay, I got him to eat on the fist, out in the open. The next step was to call him to the lure on a creance line, so he couldn’t fly off, and see what happens. We found a path out in the jungle, more like a tunnel with dark green vegetation growing top and bottom, figuring he should be totally focused on the lure, as that was all he could see. We made a perch by lashing a natural log into the fork of a tree that he could launch from. Cordi laid the creance line down the path and I placed Imbulog on the perch. Cordi was going to throw the lure on the mark that Neil wanted so as to keep the entire flight in the camera frame. There were actually two cameras, Neil with one and Eric with the other. When everyone was ready I turned and looked at what Imbulog would be flying into. I thought, hell, I wouldn’t fly into that mess, cameras and people everywhere, looks scary as hell.
The next thought that came rushing into my head was, here’s my wife calling a huge raptor to her that has a taste for primates. Now, Cordi is very experienced with eagles, but not this kind of eagle. If something were to go wrong, I didn’t think I could get there in time. Go, I said, and stepped aside as Cordi threw out the lure. Imbulog launched off the perch and flew right to the lure! There were lots of silent high-fives at the other end. However, in my effort to get out of the shot, I stepped back right on top of a huge anthill and they were not happy, coming up my legs at full force; I may have panicked slightly.
Now on to free-flight with no equipment…gulp!