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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Harpy Eagle Release Update
Marta Curti — in Harpy Eagle Conservation and Research    ShareOn October 4 of 2003 we at The Peregrine Fund - Panama received the distressing news that a Harpy Eagle had been shot and injured in a remote area of the Darien Province of Panama. She had been rescued by government authorities and was being brought to our facilities for care. Not one month later, on October 31, did we receive word of another Harpy Eagle, this one a young male, that had also been shot and injured. He, too, was brought to our facilities. And then in March, on a tidal wave of bad news, a third Harpy Eagle, also shot, was on its way to us.

I wish that I could say that the stories of these three individuals all have a happy ending, but unfortunately that is not the case. One of the females, the last bird that arrived at our facilities, suffered only minor injuries to her wing when she was shot, but a likely subsequent fall resulted in some head trauma which left her blind in one eye. This bird will never be able to be released. She will become part of our captive breeding program and at least her offspring will be free. The young male’s story is an even sadder one to tell. His wing injuries were much more severe. A large section of his ulna was shattered when the bullet tore through his wing and despite our best efforts to surgically repair his bone with a pin, an already present infection was spreading and no treatments or medicines were able to stop it. In the end, we could not save this bird.

But amid these tragedies, there was a glimmer of hope. One bird, the first female that came to us, does indeed have a very happy ending to her story. Now known as MW for the letters on her band, she first arrived in Panama City late at night, after riding in the back of a pickup truck for about seven hours in a dilapidated crate with a piece of chicken hanging on a string for her to feed on. First thing in the morning, we placed her in a clean kennel and provided her with rats to feed on, which she accepted willingly. We then took her to a local vet where x-rays confirmed that she had indeed been shot. In order to prevent her from accidentally hurting her wing even further, we had to keep her in a small kennel for almost two months. During this time, we treated her with antibiotics, stretched her wings to prevent any muscle atrophy and replaced her bandages every few days.

It was a relief for everyone involved when she was finally ready to be transferred to a quarantine chamber where she was able to fly a bit and begin the long process of recuperation. While in this chamber, she fed well, but had already lost most of her flight feathers and looked absolutely ragged. After several months of waiting for her feathers to grow back, we moved her to a much larger enclosure where she had space to fly and to re-build her strength. After months of careful observation, we determined that she was ready for release.

On 24 November, we placed a radio transmitter on her, as we do with all the released birds, and set her free into Soberania National Park. Volunteers continued to monitor her movements and very quickly she began to fly long distances, exploring this brand new territory. She traveled throughout Soberania, and eventually ended up near some communities that border the park. It had been several months since volunteers were able to feed her and we knew that she was already hunting on her own. This was confirmed when we found a dead and eaten armadillo beneath her perch.

On 23 January, Angel Muela and I were able to trap her after a week of trying. Then, Adrian Benedetti and Edwin Campbell traveled with her to what would be her final destination, the forests along the Rio Teribe area of Bocas del Toro. She was released on 23 February among a small group of onlookers – local community members proud to have another Harpy Eagle in their forests. The following day, Adrian and Edwin tracked her to see what she was up to. They located her with a sloth in her talons! She did not waste any time in making her self “at home” and it seems clear that she will not have any problems adjusting to life in this forest.

From an injured bird, almost featherless, to an accomplished huntress in a little over a year is a success story that everyone who has worked on the project can be proud of. While this success is tinged with sadness—one dead bird, another disabled for life—we knew going into this that it would not be easy. We can only continue to work harder and to expand our education programs to prevent the deaths of any more Harpy Eagles at the hands of humans.

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