From: Sharon Matola, Belize Coordinator
This BHERP update #9 is dedicated to Bill Burnham, who
was the President of The Peregrine Fund for 23 years, and
the fuel behind so many of TPF’s raptor success stories.
Bill passed away in late 2006 at the age of 59, after a
brief fight with cancer.
The Peregrine Falcon, the Aplomado Falcon, and the Orange
Breasted Falcon all have had their survival status in the
wild heightened due to Bill’s dedicated conservation
work. The Harpy Eagle also shares this profile-in-the wild
positive position, thanks to Bill Burnham. Had it not been
for Bill’s extraordinary vision, there would be no
I met with Bill at the Neo tropical Raptor conference in
Panama, October 2002. Invited there to give a presentation
about the status of the Harpy Eagle in Belize, I was happily
astounded to learn about the Harpy Eagle breeding and restoration
program that was successfully being carried out in Panama.
Bill Burnham established the Panama branch of TPF: Fondo
Peregrino-Panama. Harpy Eagles were captive bred at TPF’s
Neotropical Raptor Center, and then released into a protected
area within Panama. Once released, the birds were free to
roam their native forest and begin the process of learning
to become successful hunters. At this time, they were also
tracked by biologists, who monitored their progress. Once
the birds proved their ability to hunt, they were then re-released
back into more isolated forests where they once lived, but
lived no more, or were known only from scant reports. Hunting
pressure appeared to be the primary reason for their unfortunate
Discussing this program with Bill in Panama, I lost no
time in insisting that this very same conservation effort
could succeed further north in the range of the Harpy Eagle:
In Belize. At this point, Bill Burnham could have dismissed
my idea. Instead, he chose to accept this concept and he
embraced the idea of the possibility of TPF expanding the
Harpy Eagle Restoration Program northwards into Belize.
The rest is history. The BHERP is now into its 4th successful
year. And it stands as a unique living Memorial to a man
who contributed more towards the preservation of raptors
than what can be expressed in words.
The Harpy Eagles, those great and grand birds of prey who
became a part of the ecological profile of the Selva Maya,
will forever stand as a symbol reflecting the passion and
wisdom of Bill Burnham.
The following pieces of information about the BHERP, exciting
and inspiring, have happened because Bill Burnham created
the very conservation platform which gave rise to this tremendous
environmental success story.
Thank you, Bill.
Figure above: Harpy Eagle
AT using forest corridors to return to Rio Bravo (click
for larger image)
THE BELIZE HARPY EAGLE RESTORATION
HOW IT STANDS IN JUNE 2007
Up to now, no further releases of Harpy Eagles have occurred.
Emphasis has been focused upon monitoring DT, a male from
the program, who has apparently adopted Tikal National Park
as his preferred home, as well as the carrying of environmental
education about the Harpy eagle, into villages in Guatemala
The Belize Zoo, TBZ, has been fortunate to work with Wildlife
Conservation Society, Roan McNab and Rony Garcia, in efforts
to spread this important information into specific villages
in the Peten.
The Nature Conservancy, TNC, provided a grant to TBZ, for
the continuation of our outreach education efforts. This
work will eventually be taken into Mexico and Guatemala,
the other two countries which share the Selva Maya, the
22,000 km2 block of tropical forest which is now home to
the released Harpy Eagles.
Carol and Richard Foster worked with TBZ to produce a short
documentary about the Harpy Eagle, in Spanish, which has
been distributed in Guatemala, in areas where BHERP eagles
have been sighted or tracked from radio telemetry.
Panama the Harpy Eagle, who is the Harpy Ambassador for
his wild counterparts, celebrated his 4th birthday last
October. Schools were invited, and the event was covered
by both radio and television in Belize.
The Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Program received coverage
in TACA airline’s in-flight magazine, ABOARD, in November
Numerous articles appeared in Guatemalan newspapers about
the program, being that male Harpy “DT” found
Tikal National Park so inviting.
Ryan Phillips and Chris Hatten, biologists with The Peregrine
Fund, spent long hours monitoring the Harpy activities within
Tikal National Park The preferred prey item from the park’s
ample resident population of wildlife: Coatimundi, Nasua
A sighting of an adult Harpy Eagle occurred in the Bladen
Nature Reserve in mid-2007. Belize Foundation for Research
and Environmental Education, BFREE, has begun a field program
with a complementary Environmental Education program. This
important work is taking place in the Toledo District, southern
Belize. Angel Muela of The Peregrine Fund, visited BFREE
and gave a technical presentation in April 2007.
Prey taken by BHERP Harpy Eagles, up to June 2007:
- Anteater Tamandua mexicana
- Coatimundi Nasua narica
- Virginia opossum Didelphis virginiana
- Grey Fox Urocyon cinereoragenteus
- Kinkajou Potos flavus
- Mexican Porcupine Coendou mexicanus
- Spider Monkey Ateles geoffroyi
- White tail deer Odocoileus virginiana
- Iguana Iguana iguana
And bad news.
HS, a female Harpy Eagle was tracked within the area of
Tikal National Park, and adjoining forests, for over 6 months.
Her transmitter was found, May 2007, in an abandoned milpa
(cultivated field). It appeared to have been cut off. She
is presumed dead.
The last note serves to underscore the imperative need
to keep information about the Harpy Eagle, alive, active,
constant and strong within the arena of schools and communities.
Was this eagle shot out of malevolence? Probably not. Ignorance?
Most likely. The Environmental Education efforts having
their beginnings in Belize, and now starting entry into
neighboring countries, hopefully will be effective and successful
in achieving a greater and necessary awareness about the
BHERP extends gratitude to the following:
- The Peregrine Fund – USA and Panama, Angel Muela,
Marta Curti, Magaly Linares, and Dr. Rick Watson.
- The UNDP/SGF
- The Belize Defence Force, BDF
- The Belize Zoo Education Department
- The Belize Zoo Animal Management Department
- Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education,
BFREE, Jacob Marlin and staff.
- Dr. Steven Brewer
- British Forces Belize, 25 Flt. Army Air Coprs
- Carol and Richard Foster, Cinematographers
- Programme for Belize, PfB, including all officials
and personnel at the Rio Bravo Conservation Management
- The Peregrine Fund biologists Chris Hatten and Ryan
- Conservation Division/Ministry of Natural Resources,
Government of Belize
Wildlife Officer, George Hanson
- Chief Forest Officer, Wilber Sabido
- The Belize Agricultural Health Authority, BAHA, Dr.
- The Nature Conservancy/Ohio Chapter and Belize Chapter
- The Wildlife Conservation Society
- The Columbus Zoo Conservation Program
- TACA Airlines
Back to main Harpy Eagle introduction
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