Panama the Harpy Eagle is a star at the Belize Zoo – and this very important predator’s birthday can never pass without a celebration. So the Belize
Zoo Team planned a party for Panama and they invited the kids from St. Joseph Primary School and a group of 1
formers from Wesley College. But the kids weren’t the only ones who came to pay Panama a visit – he also had some surprise guests who just…flew in.
Courtney Weatherburne found out more....
Usually a Harpy Eagle like this would be out in the wild, soaring across the sky with its 6 foot wing span and powerful talons -hunting for prey. But this
one – Panama - is comfortably perched on this tree branch keenly listening to the serenaders below.
All that singing is for his 12th Birthday, and just like every year, city kids are invited to come and celebrate with him.
But today is more than just a birthday celebration; it’s an event to highlight the significance of these raptors.
"So Harpy Eagles as we know are just raptors in Belize. So they represent a huge group, a category of birds, the birds of prey, the raptors that are
very important in our culture as well as in the economy. As part of tourism, birding is a huge thing and it's growing every day. People come to Belize
specifically sometimes just to see birds, to do birding. For them to be able to have the chance to see rare raptors like that, Harpy or Spectabilis is
very significant. And then of course the role they play in out ecology is just as critical, which the raptor centre has shared with you all. With
Panama specifically, there are charismatic mega fauna, they are huge birds people can really identify and connect with just because they are so
powerful and so awe-inspiring. So that's Panama's roll, the boss, the top guy."
And it’s because of this crucial role that they must be protected.
"There is a lot of wildlife in Belize City, first of all and we still find that there is a lot of conflict and misunderstanding. A couple weeks ago
there was incident where some children beat and killed a barn owl in Belize City unfortunately. As we've been sharing to years barn owls actually are
really important. They eat all the Charlie price in the area, they eat rats, only rats all the time. So to have them around is actually valuable. So we
will be trying our best to focus on all urban schools, get them engaged like we have with Wesley. Take the barn owl to the schools and also see how
many of them we can bring out to the zoo to meet the charismatic raptors we have here right. Just keep that education and awareness in their minds as
much as possible."
But Panama isn’t the only raptor with such status and power. This Black Hawk Eagle is the 4th largest raptor in Belize. Apart from her talons, her eyesight
is 8 times greater than humans.
And then there is Luna, the Spectacled Owl. She is the largest owl in Belize and can hear a heartbeat from 25 feet away. But even though these are apex
predators – they too are under threat.
Sarah Mann - Director, Belize Raptor Centre
"They are extremely important, so raptors are natural pest control. We are actually working on a slogan right now that say keep us safe so that we can
keep you healthy. A lot of people shoot raptors because of the fact that they do eat chickens here and there, I won't lie about it. But they are
obligate eaters, so if they find something when they are hungry. But they also eat a lot of animals that can make us sick. So Luna, one of her
favourite food is opossum; opossum can carry diseases that can be passed to humans. We also have skunks and snakes, we have a lot of venomous snakes
here in Belize and our hawk eagle loves the Fur-de-Lance, that's one of her favourite food to eat. So yes they may eat stuff we don't want them to but
in the end, in the big picture of things, they are protecting us.
The 1st formers who attended participated in an essay and poem competition on birds of prey.