Three Harpy eagles transplanted to Belize
Every year thousand of visitors
enter Belize to join their local
counterparts in the passionate
pastime called bird watching.
Today, I did some bird watching of
my own at the airport as some
very special specimens became
Janelle Chanona, Reporting
This morning's TACA flight out of El Salvador had precious
cargo in its hold...three Harpy Eagles. For most Belizeans,
this could very well be their first and only sighting of a Harpy
A female adult harpy can weigh in at twenty pounds, with a
wingspan of seven feet and armed talons larger than the
claws of a bear that can deliver a deathblow to its prey in
seconds. These eagles are considered the most powerful
birds of prey in the animal kingdom.
At five months old, the bird might look cute but as an adult,
Harpy Eagles can kill you with a look. So it's no surprise that
according to the experts, their very appearance has damned
them to near extinction in Central America.
Angel Muela, Raptor Release Coordinator, Peregrine
"Poaching is probably the most critical threat to Harpy
eagles. They're really curious birds that will follow a person
through the forest if they haven't seen them before. And it's
a matter of time before a potential hunter/poacher sees a
bird and out of ignorance or fear, shoots the bird and kills it."
And murder has been the case in Belize. Sightings were few
and years between...that's why bird watchers got excited in
2000 when photographers managed to capture video
images of an adult Harpy eagle near Caracol in the Cayo
District. So imagine their sadness when they saw this
picture: Guatemalan children posing with the eagle that their
father had just shot.
The vulnerable plight of Harpy eagles has not been lost on
Sharon Matola, Director, Belize Zoo
"Today Belize is taking a very exciting and a very historic
step towards conservation and natural resources
According to Director of the Belize Zoo, Sharon Matola, while
the eagles live in extremely limited numbers, we do have the
resources to support a healthy population.
"What we do have is forest habitat that is so necessary for
sustaining a population of Harpies. And what really gets their
population reduced...oddly enough, most animals, oh they
are not here anymore, well, habitat destruction. But for the
harpy it's a different story, they're usually shot. And that's
where the zoo is going to play a paramount role in this whole
strategy in an education program. If you don't understand
that this huge bird isn't going to harm you, if you don't
understand that, then you probably would want to shoot it."
So while one of the birds will go to the Belize Zoo for
education purposes, the other two, a male and a female, will
be relocated to a secluded enclosure at the Las Cuevas
Research Station for procreation purposes. Bred in captivity
in Panama, it will take more than six months of transitional
care before the eagles can survive on their own in the wild.
Flown in with them were several pounds of frozen rats...their
diet until they are introduced to Belizean cuisine.
Marcelo Windsor, Wildlife Officer, Forestry Department
"We have constructed a hawking site whereby we'll be
actually feeding the animals there until such time that the
animals can show some independence. Throughout this
entire period, they will be monitored."
"Radio tracking devices?"
"Radio tracking devices, and a few ornithologists including
the Belize Zoo, Las Cuevas, Birds without Borders, and of
course the Forestry Department to monitor them."
But a couple of imported Harpies won't necessary solve
Belize's empty nest syndrome. All sides agree the project is
a big gamble.
"They have to learn how to hunt, they have to learn to be
wild harpies. Maybe a jaguar is going to come along in their
third month of becoming a species to go back into our
forest. They could be killed or they could be shot, we don't
know. But what we want to do is try."
Once the scientists are confident the Harpies can
survive on their own, the eagles will be moved from
Las Cuevas to a new home at Rio Bravo on protected
lands belonging to Program for Belize. The birds were
bred in captivity in Panama by the Peregrine Fund
Center for Birds of Prey. Organisers of the operation
wish to thank the staff of the Airports Authority for
their cooperation in making the bird's arrival a success.