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Harpy Eagle reintroduction in Belize

Update 9 on the Harpy Eagle Restoration Program.

JUNE 2007

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 BHERP today.

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 decline.

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.

Harpy Eagle Movements in Belize

Figure above: Harpy Eagle AT using forest corridors to return to Rio Bravo (click for larger image)




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 2006.

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 narica.

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 Harpy Eagle.


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
  • Lighthawk
  • Programme for Belize, PfB, including all officials and personnel at the Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area, RBCMA
  • The Peregrine Fund biologists Chris Hatten and Ryan Phillips
  • 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. Victor Gongora
  • The Nature Conservancy/Ohio Chapter and Belize Chapter
  • The Wildlife Conservation Society
  • The Columbus Zoo Conservation Program
  • TACA Airlines
  • IeaWild

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


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