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Harpy Eagle reintroduction in Belize

Update 5 on the Harpy Eagle Restoration Program.

December 2004

Sharon Matola, Belize Coordinator

INTRODUCTION

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 successful path.

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.

Released Female Harpy Eagle in the RBCMA

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 July.

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 always right.

Poster presentation in San Felipe, Orange Walk

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, EDUCATION DIRECTOR

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 Belize Zoo.


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.

E. ACKNOWLEGEMENTS

The Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Program owes its current successful profile to:

The Peregrine Fund
The UNDP/GEF/SGF
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 of Belize
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 matola@belizezoo.org if there are any questions or comments. Thank you for your interest in BHERP. Please feel welcome to distribute this document.

Sharon Matola, Belize Coordinator
Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Program


December 2004

Back to main Harpy Eagle introduction page

Update 2 of October 2003

Update 3 of January 2004

Update 4 of July 2004

 

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