Friday, 13 January 2017

Philippine Eagles, Philippine Monkeys, the President of the U.S.A. and Poliomyelitis

In my article on visiting Manila Zoo in January 1967, I included a photograph I took of what is now know as the Philippine Eagle but more usually then as the Monkey-eating Eagle and occasionally as the Greater Philippine Eagle. The eagle, classified as critically endangered by IUCN, still carries the same scientific name that it started out with in 1897: Pithecophaga jefferyi. The generic name was coined to reflect its supposed diet by William Robert Ogilvie-Grant (1863-1924) of the Natural History Museum in London who received the first specimen to be collected from John Whitehead (1860-1899). Whitehead collected in the Philippines between 1893 and 1896—the heyday of professional (dead) bird collecting for the private displays and museums of rich patrons and the museums of public institutions. Ogilvie-Grant described Whitehead as ‘one of the best, perhaps the best, of the field naturalists of his time’*. The specific name of the eagle, jefferyi, was to honour John Whitehead’s father, Jeffery Whitehead.

Philippine Eagle, Manila Zoo, January 1967

I cannot remember now whether Manila Zoo had one or more of the eagles. It was not a species with which I was unfamiliar, however. London Zoo had a Monkey-eating Eagle that I had photographed in 1958 or 1959.

Philippine Eagle
London Zoo, 1958 or 1959

Recently I found in the history of this species in captivity that the London bird was a male, that it arrived on 30 September 1952 as an adult from a Mr Alex. E Lawrence and that it died on 21 October 1961 of ‘mycosis of lungs and thoracic air sacs’. Later, London Zoo had another male in which Vitamin A deficiency was suspected. It arrived from Antwerp Zoo in July 1963 and died in October 1966. Antwerp Zoo had received this bird from a John Eggeling of Cebu City in the Philippines.

At this point I digress to the current status of this forest eagle. Having suffered a major decline because of deforestation (i.e. human over-population) considerable efforts have been made to protect existing populations. It is now the ‘national bird’ of the Philippines. The population appears to be 200-300 breeding pairs. The Philippine Eagle Foundation supports conservation at all levels and its captive breeding programme is successful although attempts at reintroduction have been thwarted to some extent by such familiar problems as electricity cables and men with guns.

With that note of cautious optimism, I return to the Monkey-eating Eagle in zoos and how they came to be there. Richard Weigl of Frankfurt Zoo and Marvin L. Jones of San Diego Zoo looked at zoo records from around the world to produce their paper, The Philippine Eagle in captivity outside the Philippines, 1909-1988 (International Zoo News 47/8 (No 305), 2000). They found records of 50 birds obtained by world zoos over that period. They wrote:

…the bulk of the birds seen in captivity arrived from 1947 to 1965, a very brief period of time. The first three were collected by a recently discharged American Army lieutenant named Charles Wharton, who joined an expedition sent to the area by the Chicago Natural History Museum (today known as the Field Museum of Natural History). One of these birds died in 1950, one in 1952 and one in 1958. A gentleman named John Eggeling, of Cebu City, then began to send specimens to zoological collections around the world either himself, or via other dealers. He also supplied skins to some museums and ornithologists; just how many he trapped is unknown, but he does seem to have been the primary supplier. Some lived relatively short captive lives, but one sent out in 1964 lived to 1988, and was the last known captive bird living outside the Philippines. A few collections made attempts to breed the species, but none were successful.

Of the 50, 15 (and possibly more) were supplied by John Eggeling, including the one that arrived at London via Antwerp in 1963. Since reading the paper, I had the feeling that I had heard the name Eggeling in the past. I reasoned that if he could supply eagles then he could have dealt in other species as well. I then remembered that in the late 1950s and 60s, a number of Philippine macaques (the Philippine form of the Crab-eating or Long-tailed Macaque, Macaca fascicularis) were being sold in British pet shops and smaller animal collections open to the public. So I did a Google search including the name, ‘monkey’ and Philippines. One result was of key interest.

I found what may have been a syndicated article by Mason Rossiter Smith in the St. Lawrence Plaindealer, published in Canton, New York State on 26 April 1956, entitled, ‘Business, With Pleasure’ which shows Eggeling’s role in the production of Salk vaccine for poliomyelitis. The article began:

CEBU, PHILIPPINES.—“TRY JOHN EGGELING” SOME-one suggested to the representative of the National Foundation of for Infantile Paralysis, “he knows all about Mindanao.” Searching for a dependable source to provide a steady, regular supply of monkeys for its anti-polio vaccine program, the Foundation’s man finally located this German-born Filipino citizen and outlined his problem: So many young male monkeys from Mindanao, all of such-and-such an age, delivered by air to Continental United States in perfect health, in regular quantities each month…
     …Much has happened since that important day. Requirements and the polio foundation have increased steadily and substantially, and many a would-be competitor has attempted unsuccessfully to get into this “monkey business”, but last year John Eggeling shipped 50,000 monkeys to the United States…
     …Yesterday John Eggeling was just another obscure proprietor of a frontier-land hotel in Surigao, a province of Mindanao. Today he is important to the polio foundation and its great hopes for the children of America and the world…

The article goes on to describe his whole enterprise and how the monkey catching business operated. Females and breeding males were released apart from those ordered by zoos. It also described his doves, parrots and parakeets, ‘not to mention a large monkey-eating eagle. And now, from what began initially as a hobby has grown a substantial international business in birds’.

Philippine Long-tailed Macaque
(from here)
Why were so many monkeys needed? Not for research but for the large-scale production of the vaccine. Jonas Salk who was supported by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now the March of Dimes) which had been set up by President Roosevelt who had been partially paralysed by polio at the age if 39. Salk set out to make a vaccine using killed virus which he believed would be safer than an attenuated virus approach. Enders, Weller and Robbins had previously established that polio virus could be grown in non-nervous tissue culture (for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954). Salk set up a culture system to grow the three types of polio virus using monkey kidney cells and then killed the virus with formaldehyde. A huge controlled trial was begun in 1954 in the U.S.A. and it was, of course, for this trial and for subsequent large-scale production that monkey kidneys were needed—lots and lots of monkey kidneys for the primary cell cultures—and lots and lots of monkeys.

Franklin D Roosevelt

Jonas Salk, 1914-95
Polio, usually in Britain as well as in the U.S.A. called infantile paralysis, was a devastating disease and the effects are still apparent. One summer in the mid-1950s a number of children of my age and at my school were affected and in the immediate neighbourhood. One was kept alive in an ‘iron lung’ for months. Parents were, not surprisingly, extremely worried. Throughout the world the pressure was on to deliver a vaccine with a timescale of yesterday.

In Britain the Ministry of Health was cautious. A serious production problem had occurred with one manufacturer in the U.S.A: live and virulent virus was not only present in the vaccine but had infected those children vaccinated. Eventually, British parents were given a choice: immediate vaccination with imported Salk vaccine or a wait until sufficient had been produced (from a different strain of virus apparently) by a British manufacturer (reference here). It must have been 1958 when we lined up at school for the jab, amused greatly by tales of which tough rugby player had passed out at the sight of the needle, of the imported Salk vaccine.

Here is not the place to describe the warfare that raged between proponents of dead versus attenuated virus vaccines but the following shows what happened to the incidence of poliomyelitis in Britain after the introduction of Salk and then Sabin (attenuated) vaccines:

Incidence of poliomyelitis in Britain 1912-2006. From here

I read that the VERO immortalized kidney cell line derived from an African green monkey has been used for some time to produce the viruses for polio vaccine. But now knowing the early history of vaccine testing and production, I cannot help wonder if I still have a few antibodies in my circulation to a Philippine Long-tailed Macaque—one of the hundreds of thousands used to effect one of the triumphs of 20th Century medicine, and one which came from the same animal dealer as a number of the Philippine Eagles—reckoned to be the third largest in the world—which reached zoos of the world between 1952 and 1962.

*Mearns B & Mearns R. 1998. The Bird Collectors. London: Academic Press