Birthdays are happy occasions and at the Belize Zoo, it is no different. This morning a special harpy eagle, who our cameras have been following for some time, reached another milestone inching closer to one decade of life. We were there when Panama turned on his charm greeting students and visitors and the cameras of course. News Five’s Delahnie Bain reports.
Delahnie Bain, Reporting
When you hear of a birthday celebration at the Belize Zoo, April the Tapir comes first to mind. But today the party was for a special Harpy Eagle named Panama.
Sharon Matola, Founding Director, Belize Zoo
“It’s an important celebration for Panama the Harpy Eagle, who is nine believe it or not and he has been a prominent part of our Harpy Eagle conservation and release back into the wild program.”
“How is that? Can you expound on that?”
“I’d love to explain that. We started that in 2003 and what it was the eagles were captive bred and brought to Belize and put back in the forest where they once lived. But they’ve been kind of wiped out. So the program was to reestablish Harpy Eagles in Belize. Panama could not be part of the reintroduction because when he hatched his eye was damaged and so you don’t put a damaged animal into the wild. So he became our educational Harpy and an ambassador for Harpy eagles everywhere.”
Over a hundred students were bused in for the party; among them were guests from St. Agnes Preschool, who sang a special song for Panama.
“They are from the preschool in La Democracia and I go up there and work with the children. They come here, see the animals, learn conservations songs; we just have a good time. They’re the future leaders of our country and they are going to be in tuned with the wildlife that’s out there.”
Camille McFadzean, Teacher, St. Agnes Anglican Preschool
“It has been great because there the children have learnt a lot about the different zoo animals and now Sharon has taught them mussy every song for each animal so they could sing each song for the animals; jaguar, Junior Buddy birthday, Panama, the different animals. So it’s exciting. She has been doing good work there at the preschool so we are grateful and thankful to be educating the children in that form.”
Preschool teacher, Camille McFadzean, accompanied the Founding Director of the Zoo, Sharon Matola, to give the birthday boy his treats. At his age, it was expected that human interaction would be dangerous, but Panama welcomed his visitors.
“I was told by the experts that he could only be managed, gotten in with and shared with people until he was two and then he would be completely kind of not doable with people. But I kept working with him on a regular basis and as you can see he quite enjoyed the company. But when people are afraid—I mean he’s a huge bird with these big talons, he is kind of scary and so you can’t help but be a little nervous and he can sense that so you never know what’s gonna happen. But as soon as he got used to the whole scene he was so wonderful. He’s just such a cool bird.”
“It was very exciting. I was a bit nervous though because the last time I was in that cage, Panama just jumped in my head. But I said I’m going to go in there and just be calm. Maybe it’s because I was that nervous the last time; but now I was not that nervous but excited more than anything and I enjoyed it. It really gives the children a lot of exposure to see the Panama at the zoo and they enjoy seeing their teacher feeding the Panama so I’m happy about it.”
Matola hopes that Panama will get along just as well with the female Harpy when they are introduced.
“What I hope is that he is going to accept the female next door because within the next year we’ll probably introduce them together and hopefully they’ll make little Panama’s, bird you know; we hope. With Harpy’s you never know but they’ve been side by side for a couple years so I think it’ll go okay.”
Delahnie Bain for News Five.
The Harpy Eagle is one of the four largest birds in the world and at age nine, Panama has a wing span of almost six feet.