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Harpy Eagle reintroduction in Belize

Update 12 on the Harpy Eagle Restoration Program.

December 2009

From: Sharon Matola, Belize Coordinator

The fifteenth Harpy Eagle for release into the forests of Belize arrived to our country from Panama, on Friday 5 December 2009. This five year old male was given the name, “Hope” and for a good reason. Our release efforts with “Hope” were all tied into the urgent issue of Climate Change. The concept is simple: Reducing the negative impacts of Climate Change can happen if forest habitat is protected. Keeping forests intact cuts down on carbon emissions. Scientific research has repeatedly shown that carbon emissions, over the years, have definitely modified our climate. And not in a positive manner!

So, if we protect, manage and govern these remaining forests, our lives and the lives of our children stand to benefit from such vital and sound strategies. Ensuring that this important habitat remains in a healthy condition will also provide a future in the wild for the magnificent Harpy Eagle. Definitely a “Win-Win” situation!!

Having “Hope” arrive to Belize from Panama presented a hard challenge. The former “Harpy Eagle Express” air carrier recently downsized its aircraft and announced that it would no longer fly live animals. Well, “Hope” fit into that category, and none of our pleas resulted in a change of their “No- Animals-No-More” policy and it was FedEx Express who came to “Hope’s” rescue!

Hope in quarantine off site at the Belize Zoo

FedEx Express officials came out to greet “Hope” the Harpy eagle as he landed in Belize

Believing in the importance of the program, officials from FedEx met and agreed to fly “Hope” from Panama to Guatemala City on a commercial carrier. Then, when “Hope” and his escort, Angel Muela of The Peregrine Fund arrived to Guatemala City, they would board a charter airplane for their final destination: Belize!!

But there was a hurdle to overcome ............ The flight kennel carrying “Hope” was unable to fit into the aircraft. What could now happen in order to see that “Hope” traveled onwards to his new home in Belize?

Angel Muela carefully held “Hope” in his lap for the two hour flight! With a cover over the massive raptor’s head and Angel holding his talons, the unusual crew landed in Belize late on a Friday afternoon. Yes! We were just a little stunned when they climbed out of the aircraft, Angel carrying “Hope” with much concentrated care and attention.

“Hope” then remained quietly in quarantine at The Belize Zoo until his scheduled release on Monday, the 11 th of December. Our flying heroes, the Belize Defense Force (BDF) Air wing, under the command of Col. Ganney Dortch, saw that “Hope” and his entourage were flown to Blue Creek. The USA Ambassador and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Vinai Thummalapally, the British High Commissioner, Mr. Pat Ashworth, and cinematographers, Richard and Carol Foster, Humberto Wohlers, Animal Management Supervisor at The Belize Zoo, and Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Program Coordinator, Sharon Matola, all accompanied “Hope” to Blue Creek. A large crowd awaited their arrival.

The waiting crowd at Blue Creek, Orange Walk District

Edilberto Romero, Director of Programme for Belize (PfB), and top-notch PfB officials, Vladimir and Rudy and even 10 month-old Eddie Romero were among the enthusiastic welcoming committee. Students from the Blue Creek schools were there to greet “Hope”, as was the entire Community Council, led by Mayor Abe Froese.

The USA Ambassador and the British High Commissioner joined together to present a plaque to Mayor Abe , complete with an inscribed image of a Harpy Eagle, thanking the entire community for their support on behalf of this important conservation work. Next came a presentation to Mrs. Daphne Dyck, one of the school principals in Blue Creek. Zoo Environmental Educator, Mr. Jamal Andrewin, presented a framed photo of “Panama” the Harpy Eagle to Mrs. Dyck, thanking her and all of the students for their high-interest in the Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Program.

Then, off to the release site in Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area! Within the hour, all were positioned for the final and most important part of the day: The release of “Hope” the Harpy Eagle into his new home: The forested landscape of Rio Bravo.

Mayor Abe Froese and PfB’s Eddie Romero together opened the kennel door. “Hope” was out in a flash! He immediately flew up into a nearby tree, and pooped in the direction of the crowd! Then, after seemingly “getting his bearings” for about ten minutes, “Hope” flew off, leaving his very happy well- wishers far behind.

Following a most-magnificent luncheon prepared by the Blue Creek Community, all were treated to yet another great event commemorating the day. Skydiver-Supreme-Team , Andy and Colin, flew into the upper atmosphere with ace pilot Abe, and jumped from 5,000 feet to say a HAPPY “HOPE” RELEASE DAY TO ALL!!!

“Hope” the Harpy Eagle will be tracked by satellite telemetry and his whereabouts will be shared with all.

The Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Program, BHERP, sincerely extends thanks to the following for helping to make the release of “Hope the Harpy Eagle” such a successful event:

  • - The Government of Belize, Ministry of Natural Resources
  • - Belize Agriculture/Health Authority, BAHA
  • - FedEx Express
  • - The Peregrine Fund
  • - Programme for Belize and La Milpa field station
  • - The Belize Defense Force, BDF Airwing
  • - The entire Community of Blue Creek - The staff of The Belize Zoo
  • - The British High Commission
  • - The United States Embassy
  • - Cinematographers, Carol and Richard Foster
  • - Channel 7 and Channel 5 Television/Belize

Any questions/comments, please feel welcome to contact BHERP Coordinator, Sharon Matola, matola@belizezoo.org

Back to main Harpy Eagle introduction page

Update 2 of October 2003

Update 3 of January 2004

Update 4 of July 2004

Update 5 of December 2004

Update 7 of December 2005

Update 9 of June 2007

Update 10 of October 2007

Update 11 of August 2008

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