The Peregrine Fund Home
Sign In
The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
NEEP Makes Preliminary Educational Visits to Mexico
Marta Curti — in Neotropical Environmental Education Program    ShareOne of the greatest threats to Harpy Eagles in the short term is human persecution. In order to prevent our released birds (see our Notes From the Field-Harpy Eagle Releases for more information) from getting shot, trapped or otherwise injured at the hands of humans, The Peregrine Fund-Panama has been conducting an intensive environmental education program in Panama for the past four years. In 2003, we expanded our release program into Belize and, subsequently, began a partnership with the Belize Zoo in order to provide quality environmental education to children and adults in that country.

To date, we have released nine independent Harpy Eagles into the Rio Bravo Management Area of northern Belize. This area is a healthy contiguous forest habitat that extends beyond the Belize border west into Guatemala and north into Mexico. Here wildlife abounds and sightings of spider monkeys, coatimundis, guans, ocellated turkeys, Ornate Hawk-Eagles, jaguarondi, and even jaguars are not uncommon. It is an ideal habitat for Harpy Eagles and most of the birds we have released in the area continue to do very well. Many have begun to disperse throughout the region, covering several kilometers each day and winding up in some surprising places. Recently, two of the released female Harpy Eagles, one named Ophelia and the other Pannaba, crossed the Belize border into Mexico.

Since our educational efforts had not extended into that country thus far, we were concerned about the well-being of these birds and wanted to make sure that we did everything possible to prevent them from falling victim to human curiosity, fear, or ignorance. So, in March of this year volunteers Chris Hatten and Phil Hannon, Sharon Matola of the Belize Zoo, and I made our first environmental education trip into southern Mexico. We carried with us brochures, posters, and about a pound of piñata candy to pass out to the locals. Our goal for this visit was threefold: to inform as many people as possible about our Harpy Eagle release program; to let them know that there were currently two Harpy Eagles in the area; and, most importantly to ensure the safety of these birds by assuring community members that these large raptors are not a threat to people or their livestock, and that they are, additionally, protected by law.

Early on a Friday morning, we loaded ourselves and our gear into the old Hilux truck and headed out past the open Mennonite-owned fields toward Mexico. While the road left much to be desired—it started out as a bumpy, dusty, pot-hole filled dirt road and quickly shrunk to what closely resembled a very narrow horse trail—the bird watching was amazing. Along the way we spotted a Bat Falcon, a Laughing Falcon, and a Northern Harrier to name just a few of the raptors we saw that day.

After about an hour of trudging slowly along the dirt road/horse trail, carefully avoiding tree fall, large thorny bushes, and giant ruts, I couldn’t help but be thankful that rainy season had not yet begun. With even a little bit of moisture, this road would be impassable at best and a quagmire of vehicle-stopping mud at worst. Just as I was thinking this, our journey came to a sudden, temporary halt. Lying across the road was a large tree that was effectively blocking our path. Armed with two machetes, a hack saw, a chain and Chris’ forestry expertise, we were able to cut, hack and tug the tree just far enough out of the road to pass; after about half an hour we were on our way again.

Very soon after, we arrived at the Mexico border. We knew this only because a map and GPS told us so. At this particular point there is no border crossing per se. No signs, no guards, nothing but dirt road and some forest. One minute you are just driving along a dirt road in Belize, the next minute you are in Mexico.

The first town we came to, about five or 10 minutes past the border, was Pioneros, a small community of about 20 houses from what we could see and a one room school house in an open field in the middle of town. While Chris and Sharon climbed the water tower to check for the Harpy Eagle’s transmitter signals, I began handing out brochures and talking with as many community members as I could. I also made a quick stop at the school where I spoke with roughly 15 kids about the Harpy Eagle and gave a poster to the teacher which he immediately hung up in the classroom. Knowing we had at least three other communities to visit, we spent less than an hour in Pioneros before climbing back into the vehicle and heading north along the road.

As we got closer to the other communities we wanted to visit, we came across a check point manned with armed guards. Though they didn’t ask for our passports or identification of any kind, they did ask us to exit the vehicle which they quickly searched. We took the opportunity to explain about our work and to hand out brochures and posters. The guards were pleasant and friendly and we were quickly on our way again—talking with and handing out brochures to children playing in front of their houses, to old ladies walking the dusty roads, to men traveling to or from work on horseback, and to everyone else in between. All in all we reached about 50 individuals and were greeted with interest and enthusiasm from almost everyone, most of whom had never heard of the Harpy Eagle before.

At around 3:00 p.m., to avoid driving the long road back in the dark, we began heading south. With no more brochures or posters to hand out, and our throats sore from talking, we crossed the invisible border line between Mexico and Belize feeling satisfied with the work we had done, and excited about our next visit to this area, which we hope to make in the very near future.

Find more articles about Harpy Eagle, Neotropics

Most Recent Entries Atom feedshow-hide

Our Authorsshow-hide

Our Conservation Projectsshow-hide

Species we work withshow-hide

Where we workshow-hide

Unknown column 'Hits' in 'field list'
Support our work - Donate