The Importance of Hope, the Harpy Eagle

Hope being released

Hope being released at Rio Bravo

Once upon a time quite long ago, the majestic and powerful Harpy Eagle was the alpha predator in many parts of Central America. Through habitat loss, the Harpy was on the verge of extinction, but through a programme by the Peregrine Fund with partnership of the Belize Zoo, the largest Eagle of the Americas is making a comeback. And they are doing particularly well in Belize.

While the first one, named Panama, came to the Belize Zoo in 2003 the idea since has been to re-introduce them in the wild so that someday our children will be able to know this majestic creature as it exists in its natural habitat. That effort went one step farther yesterday when an eagle named Hope was given wings. Hope was flown into Belize from Panama last week and is tonight in the wild of the Rio Bravo Reserve. Through the kindness of Richard and Carol Foster we have images of Hope’s release at Rio Bravo.

Hope’s journey to the Rio Bravo Reserve started off here at the Belize Defence Force Air Wing where the bird, one of the top predators in the world was taken in this carrier and placed carefully in the rear of the defender. Hope is the fifteenth bird to be released and hopefully will do his part to restore its healthy population.

Sharon Matola, Executive Director – Belize Zoo: “Remember they are top predators so there were never a huge amount of these eagles because they are solitary large birds of prey but they were there, they were documented and bit by bit as top predators go, if their habitats are altered or degraded, it only takes one shotgun to eliminate a mating pair. If that keeps happening over time, they are considered to be extirpated from Central America meaning no more.”

logo horiz no webAnd that is why the Raptor Restoration Programme spearheaded by the Peregrine Fund in collaboration with the Belize Zoo is very critical for the survival and conservation of these magnificent birds.

Sharon Matola: “We have a few here now but if we are responsible, if we manage and protect our forest, they will be here in the future and I am excited about that. The importance of Hope is that Hope the harpy eagle is melded towards the whole of climate change because we need that forest out there to decrease the impacts of climate change. Just by having the forest there is maintaining habitat and that is one of the best defenses against those negative impacts and guess what, harpy eagle needs the rainforest too. So there is the natural tie-in, it is about forming a strong and beneficial alliance with nature.”

The significant effort being made has caught the attention of both the US Ambassador to Belize and the British High Commissioner who accompanied Hope on his trip to his new home.

Sharon Matola: “This guy was captive bred in Panama. In 2005 he hatched, trained to be an independent hunter, he knows how to hunt, released in the forest there – what they have found out is that our program is far more successful as far as the bird surviving. Hope, the harpy eagle as well as the rest of the eagles is followed by satellites wherever they go, what they eat, what their secrets are so to speak.”

To mark the occasion the Belize Zoo, Animal Management Supervisor Humberto Wohlers will be accepting a poster on behalf of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. The gift bears a picture of Panama one of the first three harpy eagle to arrive in Belize six years ago.

Humberto Wohlers, Management Supervisor – Belize Zoo: “Well it is one of the birds that has been around in Belize, there are not much of those birds here, we are trying to restore the population back into the forest of Belize.”

Sharon Matola: “There are two more harpys that need to be trapped in Panama and then brought to Belize. Right now if some of these birds get together and start their bonding behaviour, they do mate for life and we are looking at a sustained population for the next generation. So it is really really great.” Source: 7 News Belize

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