One of the world's most powerful birds of prey, the Harpy Eagle is considered to be near extinction in Central America. In an attempt to save them the Peregrine Fund has been captive breeding them and liaising with Programme for Belize regarding re-introduction. A few weeks ago the first pair of six month old eagles were flown into Belize City and were released into the wild later that day into PFB's Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area (RBCMA). This new programme aims to re-instate a breeding population of Harpy Eagles within Belizean forests.
Despite their enormous size, measuring up to 1 metre long with a 2-metre wing-span, Harpy Eagles are surprisingly inconspicuous. As like other birds of prey, Harpy Eagles tend to stay within or below the forest canopy, hunting from perches for mammals, in particular sloths and monkeys. In recent years, viewings of Harpy Eagles have become few and far between, as these magnificent and distinctive birds of prey have become extremely rare within Belize as a result of direct persecution and loss of habitat. It is believed that no breeding pairs survive in Belizean forests, a situation that is widespread over Central America. In response, the Peregrine Fund (Panama) has been captive breeding Harpy Eagles for a number of years now, and to date has successfully released 13 individuals, in an attempt to build up numbers to a breeding population.
The Peregrine Fund has adopted a method of breeding Harpy Eagles, which has been designed to minimise human contact as much as possible, to avoid any dependence on human presence. Whilst close monitoring and initial feeding of the newly released pair takes place for the first six months, great care is taken to ensure human presence is not detected.
A specific re-introduction procedure has been designed to increase the Harpy Eagle's chance of survival, as neither bird is able to hunt for itself yet and would starve without human intervention. An artificial nest site nest site has been constructed within the Chiquibul Forest Reserve in Central Belize, where initially the birds will be fed and monitored. Gradually the amount of food is decreased, encouraging independent hunting. It is anticipated that once the Harpy Eagles are completely self-sufficient, they will be re-captured and transported to the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area (RBCMA) located towards the north of the country, leaving the artificial nest-site free for the introduction of a new pair of Harpy Eagles.
The quarter-million acre RBCMA is the largest private reserve in Belize, owned by Programme for Belize, and was originally purchased in 1989 with support from the World Land Trust and other NGO's. To find out more about this project see the WLT website. For further information about the Peregrine Fund see www.peregrinefund.org.