Sharon Matola, Belize Coordinator
Much has occurred with the BHERP since the last update,
July 2004. The program, in quick review, is showing itself
to be a positive project and developing on an extremely
While there have been setbacks, the positive movements
have far exceeded anything negative. This is largely due
to the quality care and monitoring provided to the Harpy
Eagles, (the “stars” of the program), the diligent
efforts from the Belize Zoo Education Department as well
as the Zoo’s Animal Management staff, and the enthusiastic
support for this effort by The Peregrine Fund/Panama and
in Boise, Idaho.
A. WILL CAPTIVE BREEDING AND RELEASE RESTORE OUR
BELIZEAN HARPY EAGLE POPULATIONS?
The program presents many challenges. However, working
with The Peregrine Fund, positive reinforcement for this
effort is brought to light by the success established with
their restoring other raptor species: Peregrine Falcons
and Mauritius Kestrels have both emerged as raptor species
restored back into their historic range resulting from the
work of The Peregrine Fund. And we believe that BHERP will
become another success story.
This success will be linked with breeding and releasing
as many eagles as possible where they are most likely to
survive. With sufficient numbers of harpy Eagles released,
then eventual reproduction will see that the Harpy Eagle
populations in Belize will eventually be restored.
The challenges here: Breeding large numbers of large, long-lived
and normally slow-reproducing birds of prey is a special
feat. The release of these captive-bred eagles into the
wild for the first time also presents new challenges. Also,
Harpy Eagles normally have a long post-fledging/dependence
period. This has them spending a year or more with their
parents learning to hunt and fend for themselves.
To review the breeding success to date, the Harpy Eagle
breeding group in Panama have laid 41 eggs, and 29 were
fertile, 23 subsequently hatched (79%). All of the hatched
eagles, 100%, survived. The refined breeding methods employed
in Panama have shown that Harpy Eagles can be predictably
bred in captivity.
Twenty-nine captive-bred Harpy Eagles have been soft-released
to date. And most of these birds were released at about
seven months of age, just after they had begun to fly. It
has been found that it typically took them another fifteen
months to begin hunting successfully.
When released, the Harpy Eagles are tracked daily and provided
food, as “secretly” as possible. This is to
decrease association by the birds, to humans, with their
food. A logical progression of release strategy is to encourage
young birds into independence by reducing their food or
to release birds at an older age, assuming that their innate
hunting drive will develop in captivity.
Once the Harpy Eagles are settled into their permanent
forest home (Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area, RBCMA),
they will initially be monitored by radio-tracking, and
eventually be monitored remotely via satellite for several
years. The satellite radio tag (PTT), transmits to orbiting
satellites once every few days, and relays the transmitter’s
position via e-mail. Provided the birds survive, and satellite
contact is maintained, the eagles can always be found.
In theory, the released Harpy Eagles, if all continues
to go well, will be possibly breeding in Belize in 2007.
Clearly, there is a great deal to learn. However, the knowledge
gained up to now, suggests that this Restoration program
is working, and will continue to be successful. Our efforts
indicate that eventually, a viable population of Harpy Eagles,
considered to be the most magnificent bird-of-prey in the
world, will once again call Belize its home.
B. EVENTS OCCURRING SINCE JULY 2004
1. One of the released Harpy Eagles, a male, was found
dead at Las Cuevas Research Station (LCRS), in early July.
The cause of death is questionable, but fostered a quick
plan of action to move the program from LCRS to Rio Bravo
Conservation Management Area, (RBCMA), as quickly as possible.
2. A male and a female Harpy Eagle were re-captured at
LCRS and re-settled at RBCMA, in northwestern Belize.
3. A remaining female moved southwards. By aerial tracking,
she has been found south of the Caracol area. Apparently,
this female has established a home territory and is surviving
in rugged country.
4. At the end of October,
the female at RBCMA was noted to be eating a coatimundi.
This good news shows that she is learning to independently
hunt on her own. She is also showing strong movement
patterns, moving about three km every 3-5 days. The
male has yet to show any hunting independence.
5. Initial prey base studies at RBCMA are encouraging
for the continued success of the program. Abundant
reptiles, birds and small mammals are seen on a continual
basis. With over 200,000 acres of protected forest,
this bodes well for the BHERP.
6. In November, Belize Coordinator Sharon Matola
traveled to Panama as part of a Peregrine Fund/Neotropical
Raptor Network meeting andalso had the opportunity
to observe a Harpy Eagle nest in the Darien.
7. Flying assistance has been provided by the Belize Defence
Force (BDF). It is hoped that we can continue this conservation-relationship
and tracking the eagles from the BDF Islander.
8. Environmental Education continues
to go forward with gusto. San Felipe, San Carlos and
the Mennonite community of Blue Creek all have received
outreach education about the Harpy Eagle program since
9. Poster distribution has seen a poster (featuring
a very young “Panama” the Harpy Eagle
at The Belize Zoo) making its way throughout Belize,
and into Mexico and Guatemala. Plans to upgrade this
poster, printing in both English and Spanish, are
on the drawing board.
10. Funds are still needed to keep the program thriving
at RBCMA. Belize Coordinator, Sharon Matola, encouraged
The Peregrine Fund to bring the restoration program
to Belize earlier than planned, insisting that funds
could be found to fuel the effort. She isn’t
11. In September, some support funds were acquired for
BHERP with the help of The Nature Conservancy in Ohio. Further
plans to garner additional help are being developed.
C: HARPY EAGLE OUTREACH EDUCATION: CELSO POOT,
The Harpy Eagle education outreach program funded by the
Global Environmental Facility Small Grants Program was aimed
at increasing awareness of on the natural history of the
Harpy Eagle and stimulate interest in the over all introduction
program. The program focused on the communities buffering
the Rio Bravo Management and Conservation Area, the site
selected for the eventual release of the eagles. A total
of 10 schools were visited with 22 presentations being done
to 791 students, 45 teachers and other community members.
Each presentation started with a general introduction to
wildlife conservation in Belize and then gradually highlighted
birds of prey as a group of birds with special characteristics.
The Harpy Eagle is then introduced as a flagship species
for the protection of other birds of prey and for biodiversity
in general. The presentation also discussed the natural
history of the Harpy Eagle and the reintroduction program
of this magnificent bird of prey to the Belizean forests.
The presentation culminated with an interactive discussion
between the presenter, students and teachers on ways how
they can help to make the program a success.
A random pretest was conducted among students in the upper
division at the start of each presentation to find out how
much the students knew on the topic to be discussed and
a posttest was also conducted tot eh same students at the
end of each presentation and discussion to find out what
was retained or cleared up. The tests tried to ascertain
the immediate short-term impact the presentation has on
the students since it has questions relating to knowledge,
opinion and attitude.
A total of 52 students did the pre and posttest and while
the Harpy Eagle has been assumed absent from the Belizean
forest for sometime now it was encouraging to note that
85% of the students were aware that the Harpy Eagle was
an endangered species.
A teacher’s evaluation of the presentation was also
conducted at the end of each presentation and a total of
33 teachers took time to fill out the evaluation form. The
evaluation was merely to find out the relevance of the presentation
content to schoolwork and the presenters organization skills
and ability to convey the message to the students effectively.
Off the 33 teachers who did the evaluation, 52% of them
said that they had no previous knowledge on the Harpy Eagle
before the presentation and 64% of them strongly agreed
that the presentation provided them and their students with
adequate information on the Harpy Eagle.
As previously reported each school visited was followed
with an educational field trip to the Belize Zoo for students,
teachers and community members to view first hand a Harpy
Eagle; a total of eight school from ten communities visited
were brought to the zoo. Each zoo visited started with a
revision of what was discussed in the classroom and was
then followed with food chain and a predator prey relationship
activity to reinforce the theme. Several of the zoo visits
were done over the weekends, while some were done as the
school’s annual educational field trip. A total of
1.005 children, parents and teachers were brought to the
zoo to meet “Panama” the Harpy Eagle at the
D. FUTURE EVENTS SCHEDULED
1. An additional male and female Harpy Eagle are planned
to be released at RBCMA within the next eight weeks.
2. Overflights for further tracking will occur in January.
3. Upgraded poster for distribution, in Belize and regionally,
will be developed.
4. As BHERP proceeds further, we look forward to further
building our local partnerships, participating in the release,
monitoring, and data collection process..
5. T-shirt to arrive soon at The Belize Zoo: Illustration
of a Harpy Eagle, with thanks to wildlife artist Jeff O’Connor,
and text: Harpy Eagle: The Natural Heritage of Belize. A
Treasure for The World.
6. To further strengthen the partnership between The Peregrine
Fund and The Belize Zoo, a visit to TPF/Panama by Belize
Zoo personnel is tentatively scheduled. This will result
in Belizean partners learning more about the program in
Panama and how this successful work can relate to the work
being undertaken in Belize.
The Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Program owes its current
successful profile to:
The Peregrine Fund
The Belize Defence Force (BDF)
The Belize Zoo Education Department
The Belize Zoo Animal Management Department
Programme for Belize, including all officials and all personnel
at Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area (RBCMA)
Conservation Division/Ministry of Natural Resources, Government
The Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA)
The Nature Conservancy/Ohio Chapter/International Division
Richard and Carol Foster, Cinematographers
Please feel welcome to contact me at email@example.com
if there are any questions or comments. Thank you for your
interest in BHERP. Please feel welcome to distribute this
Sharon Matola, Belize Coordinator
Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Program
Back to main Harpy Eagle introduction
Update 2 of October 2003
Update 3 of January 2004
Update 4 of July 2004