The Harpy Eagle is the most majestic bird of prey in the America’s and since 2003 there has been an effort to repopulate the Central American isthmus with the spectacular bird. A number of the eagles have been introduced at the vast and expansive Rio Bravo – but these things have a mind of their own – and one of them has left Rio Bravo – and headed southeast to Belmopan. Sharon Matola of the Belize Zoo today sounded a warning not to harm this bird if it is seen in the valley of peace of Belmopan areas.
Jacqueline Godwin Reporting,
It was on December fourteenth that we last heard about Hope, the Harpy Eagle when it was set free in the Rio Bravo Reserve. The objective is to help in the restoration of a healthy population of these species of birds, one of the top predators in the world. The birds are tracked by satellite like this one that shows Hope has flown many miles away from where it was released. The big grey and white eagle was expected to return in the deep jungle but it has remained far away from where it was released, an ideal location for its own survival.
Sharon Matola, Director – Belize Zoo
“A healthy forest with lots of prey, lots of animals to eat, to dine on, to get fat on, to live happily ever after. What did Hope do? She took off and flew straight towards Belmopan.”
The Belize Zoo Director Sharon Matola says the concern tonight is that Hope has flown into populated communities and because of its menacing appearance area residents may kill the bird out of fear for their own safety. Hope is the fifteenth bird to be released in Belize as part of the restoration programme and the only one so far to have made a sudden flight from departure that is why it has taken everyone by surprise
“We know from tracking these eagles that they do travel long distances, that is part of their natural history. When we first heard that this eagle was getting closer and closer to where people live, we figured oh, well it will turn around and go north again. He hasn’t. He’s very close, he is on the cusp of Los Tambos, Yalbac, and not that far from Belmopan. So also they are top predators and as top predators they are extremely curious birds. What we are concerned about is that someone might be afraid of him, as you can see from Panama these are big eagles, big white and grey, and initially someone might think oh no he is going to hurt my child or he is going to take my dog and you know what, he won’t. They are completely not geared into that direction. What they are doing is just kind of looking around and seeing what’s out there because they are curious.”
And the possibility of losing Hope forever is one that the Belize Zoo hopes to prevent because if the bird is killed it will be devastating to a very important part of Belize’s wildlife history.
“And the concern I guess is that when he was in quarantine he, I don’t know if Hope got used to the human contact, so I think he wouldn’t be scared flying close to human beings.”
“I think that’s a good point because no matter how careful you are, boy are we, his enclosure was just cased off, but he had to be fed and you can’t just wish that food in there. Somebody has to take it in, put it there, he sees a human, even though they just dash right out and make it look like a prey item, these are very smart birds. That is a factor that we have to be very aware of, he is not afraid of people.”
That is why the Belize Zoo has embarked on an intensive education campaign in the villages where Hope has been tracked by satellite.
Jamal Andrewin, Environmental Educator – Belize Zoo
“We will be targeting the Valley of Peace area, Los Tambos, Yalbac, Celena, and La Graza – those are the main areas that Hope is near to, in close proximity to. Myself and head of animal management at the zoo will be going out to these villages to talk to the Chairman and also to the schools if they are anyway in the area, to the school children mostly.”
Posters of Hope such as this one will be handed out in the communities.
“And it is startling. When you look at this information it can pinpoint where he is and we thought certainly he would turn around and head north but it looks like he is centering his activity in the Yalbac, Los Tambos area and it is a matter of concern. We just want to implore the people out there that this guy is harmless, he is an important part of Belize right now, and if we can do anything really great for 2010 let’s make sure he is okay.”
Meanwhile Panama the first of three harpy eagles to arrive in Belize is doing very well from her secured location at the Belize Zoo. So too are the other fourteen birds that remain in the jungles of Belize. Jacqueline Godwin reporting for 7News.
The Belize Zoo plans to hold an educational campaign over the radio to reach as many people in the communities where hope the harpy eagle has been traced by satellite.