Earlier this week we showed you a pair of Jaguarundis who were born two months ago at the Belize Zoo. News of the birth spread quickly among the zoos across the world and now the kittens are being sought after because unlike the Belize Zoo, those zoos have not had much success in getting their jaguarundis to breed. But there is another birth at the zoo that is being celebrated and that is for a vulture chick born to two king vultures. Founding Director Sharon Matola told us that the King Vulture and Harpy Eagle are not as common and are still under threat from loss of habitat. Andrea Polanco reports.
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
To many people “John Crows” are not attractive because they are known as scavengers that feed on dead animals. But they play an important ecological role in that they help to prevent the spread of diseases through their eating habits. At the Belize Zoo, the King John Crow or “King Vulture” is a big attraction. Their colorful look and size set them apart from the other three vulture species in Belize. This is Rex – he is a King John Crow who is over thirty years old. He is the oldest animal at the zoo. The king vultures don’t breed frequently especially when they are old. Founding Director of the Zoo Sharon Matola says she was pleasantly surprised when over twelve years after vultures Rex and Sally had their first chick, another little chick called Milagro came along just a few months ago.
Sharon Matola, Founding Director, The Belize Zoo
“I was the most surprised. So, Rex and Sally had been together for a long time. Literature says that they will live in captivity for about thirty years but these guys have been around since the eighties. So, here comes Sally, she was a gift from El Salvador and Rex was from the USA. He was captive bred. He was a gift. We put them together and they fell in love and had a baby in 2006. So, we thought oh that is great. Lo and behold, a few months ago, Sally laid an egg. Now, birds will lay eggs but they are infertile. So, I said don’t worry we need to take that egg out eventually because there is nothing in it. Ha! One day it cracked and cracked and cracked and out came little Milagro; one of the cutest little things in the world. So, eventually we will put the whole family together because vultures are gregarious and they will live happily ever after. And how many people actually live to see a king vulture? Again, that is the value of the zoo.”
Another bird that is very popular at the Belize Zoo is the Harpy Eagle. It is one of the rarest species in Belize. They are mostly found in the Bladen Nature Reserve where there are at least three nests. At the Zoo, there are two Harpy Eagles. They live next to each other but in separate enclosures. This is Panama the Harpy Eagle. He is friendly and is said to prefer female visitors. He has an important role at the zoo.
“He has been a huge education mascot for this zoo, teaching everyone that eagles, top predators are not going to steal your babies. They are important to have to keep balance in the tropical forest. We are in a dynamite program with the Peregrine Fund where the birds were bred in Panama, sent here for release. Panama, unfortunately, had a damaged eye when he hatched, so he has become our education Harpy Eagle.”
The King Vulture and Harpy Eagle add diversity to wildlife in Belize and are big attractions in captivity. The Belize Zoo wants us to change the way we see these birds. Deforestation and humans who are afraid of these big birds pose the most threat.
“Deforestation is always a threat but people who are afraid of a big bird will shoot it. So, that combination is detrimental to their species.”