NEEP Makes Preliminary Educational Visits to Mexico
Marta Curti— 30 June 2006 — 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.
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.
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.
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