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Harpy Eagle reintroduction in Belize

Update 7 on the Harpy Eagle Restoration Program.

December 2005

Sharon Matola, Belize Coordinator

INTRODUCTION

The BHERP is continuing to experience success as it grows and develops. As 2005 closes, the program, now over two years in place, is looking forward to continued positive growth.

A brief summary follows, in order to recall the last two years, and how these raptor events led to the present status of the BHERP.

1. In 2002, 17 Harpy Eagle chicks successfully hatched at the Neotropical Raptor Center, Panama, managed by The Peregrine Fund.
2. Many of these birds were released in Panama, and this began the first captive breeding and successful release of large forest eagles.
3. Continued successful captive breeding in Panama led to the replication of this conservation effort in Belize. In March 2003 we saw the first of two pairs of captive bred Harpy Eagles arrive to Belize for release.
4. Since those first eagles were set free in Belize, a total of 10 birds have been released here. Eight have survived.
5. The current strategy for the BHERP is to first release the eaglets in protected areas of Panama. Once the birds are confirmed to be hunting, they are captured, brought to Belize and released into the forests of the Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area, RBCMA. This is a 100,000 ha tract of protected forest managed by Programme for Belize. It is connected to part of the Selva Maya, a forest which stretches into Guatemala and Mexico, encompassing over 22,000 km2 of tropical forest habitat.
6. The eagles are monitored by conventional VHF radio-telemetry and also with the help of satellite transmitters (PTTs) so that their movements are tracked as regularly and as efficiently as possible.

The information being obtained has provided, for the first time ever, important data about the dispersal behavior of sub-adult Harpy Eagles. This assists the future releases of additional Harpy Eagles in Belize, and also provides vital clues for other programs involving the release and management of large forest eagles.

Further research projects have evolved as a result of the success of the BHERP. The last part of 2005 has seen the beginning of a foraging and dispersion ecology study in the RBCMA. Basically, several male and female Harpy Eagles will be monitored closely for one year on a daily basis. Hunting events, habitat use, movements and other relevant data are documented. The data obtained will show how the foraging and ecological regimes of the Belize released Harpy Eagles compare to those released in Panama.


STATUS OF THE HARPY EAGLES OF THE BHERP

The following Harpy Eagles were soft-released in Belize in 2003. No Harpies have been soft-released in Belize since. They are now soft-released in Panama, and when confirmed to be hunting independently, are then brought to the RBCMA.

Band Sex Hatch date Hack box Released Current Status
DX Male 2 Oct 02 20 Mar 03 12 Apr 03 Dead
MX Female 11 Oct 02 20 Mar 03 12 Apr 03 Independent
DM Male 19 Dec 02 27 May 03 17 Jun 03
Independent
LG Female 12 Dec 02 27 May 03 17 Jun 03 Independent

The Harpy Eagles soft-released in Panama and then brought to Belize include six birds who are monitored and are moving substantial distances throughout the forest landscape. One Harpy Eagle, a male, has been tracked and known to be within the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Laguna del Tigre, over 160 km west of his initial release site.

A female has been tracked and located in the forests of southern Mexico. The remaining Harpy Eagles are utilizing the forests of Belize.

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE/BHERP RELEASES

At this time, facilities are being constructed in Soberania National Park, Panama, to accommodate the release of more captive-bred Harpy Eagles. As these birds become independent in Panama, they will continue to be hard-released in Belize.

To better understand the ecological requirements of the released Harpy Eagles, a sample of about ten birds will be followed on a regular basis in Belize in order to document their prey preferences, hunting frequency, dispersion patterns, seasonal differences in prey selection and other aspects of their natural history.

This study is the first of its kind in Belize and will initially be undertaken from November 2005 into late 2006. Follow up studies will be implemented, if appropriate to the BHERP objectives.

PREY ITEMS DOCUMENTED

To date, the following has been documented as prey taken by the released Harpy Eagles:

Kinkajou Potos flavus
Coatimundi Nasua narica
Common opossum Didelphis marsupialis
Grey fox Urocyon cinereoargenteus
Spider monkey Ateles geoffroyi
Porcupine Coendou mexicanus
Anteater Tamandua mexicana

SUPPORT NOTED FOR THE BHERP

This program continues to receive flying support from the Belize Defence Force (BDF). Overflights have resulted in our being able to keep better track of a female known to be in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, western Belize.

Overflights will be arranged in 2006 with Lighthawk and with Ecoflights. The BHERP has worked with both of these conservation organizations in the past.

EDUCATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS

The San Vicente School in Orange Walk District, and near the RBCMA, has visited The Belize Zoo, specifically to see “Panama”, the resident zoo Harpy Eagle. The students and teachers continue to follow the activities of the BHERP, and TBZ anticipates working closer with the San Vicente School, and the surrounding community, as the BHERP develops.

“Panama” the Harpy Eagle – Birthday Celebration

The resident Belize Zoo Harpy Eagle turned three years old, October 2005. The nearby community pre-school children came to the zoo to celebrate his birthday. They sang his song, “Panama the Harpy Eagle”, and answered Harpy questions for the visiting press. Both of the nation’s television stations covered this event, they made thorough mention, too, about the natural history of the Harpy Eagle, and the efforts being made to restore them back into their former Belizean range.

Billboards

Two billboards have been developed and established – one, on the western highway nearby TBZ, the next on the northern highway, approximately 30 miles north of Belize City. A Harpy Eagle is on one side of the billboard, a Jaguar on the opposite side. The message reads: PROTECT THE PREDATORS. THEY BALANCE NATURE.


Posters

A new poster, again, depicting both the Harpy Eagle and the Jaguar with the “PROETECT THE PREDATORS THEY BALANCE NATURE” message, has been produced and is being distributed through TBZ Outreach Education programs.

Radio Programs

There have been seventy-eight radio programs about the Harpy Eagle and birds-of-prey written and produced by Belize Coordinator, Sharon Matola. These programs are aired daily on FM-2000, a popular Belizean radio station.

A Visit from Wildlife Artist, John A. Ruthven

In mid-November, internationally-acclaimed wildlife artist, John A. Ruthven visited the BHERP. Mr. Ruthven has painted the four largest eagles in the world, including the Harpy Eagle. The one and only print made from this painting, was given to The Belize Zoo. This was done as a gesture aimed at drawing attention to the work TBZ is doing on behalf of restoring the Harpy Eagle back into its former Belizean forest range.

Besides presenting and unveiling this print during an evening ceremony at the zoo, Mr. Ruthven, along with a group of avid Harpy Eagle fans, witnessed the release of the tenth Harpy Eagle into the RBCMA. This bird, a female, is monitored daily and reports state that she is hunting independently and moving within the RBCMA. After the release, the group was flown over the forest by the BDF. This provided a “bird’s eye view” of Harpy Eagle habitat in northwestern Belize.

Publications

Besides being featured in the Fall/Winter 2005 Newsletter of The Peregrine Fund, the program was given mention in Destination Belize 2006, the official Visitor Guide of the Belize Tourism Industry Association, BTIA. The BHERP will also be highlighted in the January issue of ORYX, an international conservation journal.

Acknowledgements

BHERP extends gratitude to the following:

The Peregrine Fund-USA and Panama
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)
The Peregrine Fund’s Harpy Eagle monitoring team
Conservation Division/Ministry of Natural Resources, Government of Belize
The Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA)
The Nature Conservancy/Ohio Chapter/International Division
John A. Ruthven, Wildlife artist
Richard and Carol Foster, Cinematographers
Great Belize Productions, Channel 5
Tropic Vision, Channel 7
La Democracia Pre-School/Mrs. Kamil MacFadzean, teacher


The attached photos illustrate the BHERP. Please feel welcome to contact me at matola@belizezoo.org, if there are any questions or comments. Thank you for your interest in the BHERP. And please feel welcome to distribute this document.

Sharon Matola, Belize Coordinator
Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Program

December 2005

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

 

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