November 2001 through March 2002
Kathia Herrera, Ursula Valdez— 19 March 2002 — in Neotropical Environmental Education Program ShareWho said that a survey is boring? A bed in a rustic house, the floor of a pre-school classroom, or a cot at a health center, all of these have been places where we spent the nights while working at rural communities of the Panama Canal area. These communities comprise the small villages and towns adjacent to former or potential release sites for Harpy Eagles. We visited them during the last four months to obtain information on the level of knowledge that people have on Harpy Eagles, the reasons why these eagles are shot around human settlements.
First, we visited two villages in the surroundings of Barro Colorado Island—Las Pavas and Lagartera. This last is where “James,” a released Harpy Eagle, was mortally wounded by a gunshot in 2000. In each of these communities, Kathia Herrera conducted a pilot educational program in 2001 and established good relations with local people. Visiting people in their houses and sharing a moment with them while filling in the survey has been a wonderful experience for us; it has given us the opportunity to talk about our organization, the natural history of Harpy Eagles, and most importantly, the urgency of our work. Harpy Eagle life often intrigued people greatly, when we were thinking that we were only talking with one family member, we realized that the whole family was around us listening…not to mention all sorts of other family members (dogs, cats, chickens, parrots, and more) that would be wandering around or even sniffing or pecking at our backpacks or boots!
Those days at the villages were enriched by the help of volunteers Reyna and Sandra, two local girls who were always ready and eager to start another day at 5 a.m. . . . at that moment for sure, we would regret our parting phrase the night before, “We will see you guys early tomorrow.”
Just a bit later, we would find ourselves walking on the muddy trails with incredibly heavy shoes (encrusted with mud!), or later we would be beaten by sun or pouring rain, but we would find a house, and after a long distance (or a high hill, you pick) another one. But at the end of each day we would be back with lots of valuable information. Should we also mention the countless red spots (read “chiggers”) that we found on ourselves?
Later on, we moved to two bigger towns, Santa Clara and Nuevo Emperador, near which another one of our released eagles was wandering for a while (she was recaptured not too long after, and is currently at the Neotropical Raptor Center facilities). These towns, although equipped with better facilities and better transportation, are no better informed on conservation issues.
Accompanied by new guides, we again sought out even the most isolated houses. We had all sorts of reactions from people surprised by our presence at their homes. Most of the time they were happy to have visitors and would enjoy the time talking about Harpy Eagles; others also offered food and really refreshing drinks, or tons of oranges that were in season. It was hard to explain that no matter how great oranges would be for the hike, we couldn’t carry that many on our already heavy packs! Sometimes we would meet after walking in different directions, and we couldn’t stop laughing at how many oranges we both had in our bags, or also commenting about that lady who thought we were from a religious group and did not let us explain anything (“the Peregrine what?? I have my religion, I am not interested”. . . bam!), or the man who would not let us talk once he realized it was about conservation . . . and just said “Please go away, I am a hunter and I don’t care,” or even the old guy that started by saying “Save your piece of paper. I have no money to buy anything.”
Now, we are comfortably working at the office (not as fun as the walks in the mud, with packs and oranges!) with the data we gathered, and we are trying to find the best approach for our next steps in the conservation of Harpy Eagles. Although much work lies ahead of us, we certainly are looking forward to that future in which we return to a community and share the excitement of seeing a Harpy Eagle flying free among the trees.
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