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Environmental Education as One Means to Conserve the Ridgway’s Hawk in the Dominican Republic
Marta Curti — in West Indies Project    ShareCrystal blue waters, white sand beaches and lush vegetation; these are the views we take in as we drive from the airport in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (DR), through the countryside, on our way to Los Haitises National Park, located in the northeast portion of the country. I have come from Panama to spend a week working with biologists Jesus Almonte and Pedro Rodriguez, to help implement an education program designed to promote the conservation of the endangered, endemic, Ridgway’s Hawk. My job would be to help them develop presentations, activities and a means to evaluate the progress of this program, which will take place in communities that surround Ridgway’s Hawk territory.

Marta Curti talks with community members about the Ridgway's Hawk
Marta Curti talks with community members about the Ridgway's Hawk
A medium-sized hawk with a spectacular, almost indescribable call, the Ridgway’s Hawk is threatened by habitat loss and by human persecution due, in part, to its misplaced reputation as a fierce chicken hunter. These two factors have been crippling for this species so that it is now considered critically endangered and found only in small pockets of its former habitat. Our challenge: how do you convince people to preserve this raptor when they fear it will kill their chickens, a source of food and, potentially, of income? How do you convince the general public of the importance of this bird before time runs out? In order to find some insight and, perhaps, some answers to these and other questions, we conducted some pre-evaluations in a community on the border of Los Haitises National Park. Jesus and I spent three days talking with Los Limones community members and conducting formal pre-evaluations. All in all, we spoke with around 60 members of the community, who were all happy to share their experience and insights with us.

Though we still have a long way to go, and extensive work still needs to be done in order to conserve this and other raptor species, we were happy with the results of the survey. Based on the answers that we received, we were able to develop an initial education strategy. Our goal was to focus on the importance of raptors in the ecosystem and their role in managing populations of “pest” animals such as rodents and snakes. Everyone we spoke to mentioned that rodents are a big problem in the community – from chewing holes in people’s clothes, to wreaking havoc in agricultural fields, to killing and eating young chickens. When we explained to people that Ridgway’s Hawks and other raptors can help control the number of rodents in the area, most people saw the benefits of having these birds nearby.

Ridgway's Hawk
Ridgway's Hawk
Needless to say, seven days of working in DR flew by and before I knew it, it was time for me to head home. As I left DR, I felt satisfied with the work we had done in only one week. However, the highlight of my trip came soon after speaking with a family that lived minutes from a nesting pair of Ridgway’s Hawks. Though I had been talking to people about these birds, I had yet to see one for myself. With the family’s permission, Jesus and I passed through their yard and walked a few minutes down a meandering dirt path. Just as the sun was setting we heard a loud, almost musical call from nearby. There, only a few feet from us, was the female perched upon a high bramble of branches. My first Ridgway’s Hawk sighting! The following morning, I got an even bigger treat when I saw the male and the female together.

As I headed back to Panama, I thought how lucky I was to have seen this species in the wild; however, I couldn’t help but wonder if future generations will be so fortunate. Then, as my plane lifted off, I thought of all the people I had met who are working so hard for this bird’s conservation and I knew that the future of the Ridgway’s Hawk, though uncertain, couldn’t be in better hands.

Find more articles about Ridgway's Hawk, Neotropics

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