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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
NEEP Makes Second Visit to Guatemala
Marta Curti — in Neotropical Environmental Education Program    ShareSince 2002, The Peregrine Fund-Panama (TPFP) has been conducting an intensive environmental education program in communities near Harpy Eagle release sites and in areas where wild Harpy Eagles remain. In 2003, when we began releasing this species in Belize, we teamed up with The Belize Zoo, and thanks to their work through community visits, billboards, newspaper articles, and radio programs, the Harpy Eagle is now a household name in that country!

The releases in Belize take place in an area known as Rio Bravo, which is part of the larger Selva Maya — the largest contiguous expanse of forest in Central America, extending from Belize into Guatemala and Mexico. The area is rich in biodiversity and is an ideal forest for a large predator, such as the Harpy Eagle.

While we knew that some of the released eagles would take advantage of the immense forest habitat and cross into Mexico or Guatemala, we have been surprised to learn just how far and how fast these birds can travel. One male, in particular, traveled over 250 km in just under one year. While this makes it exciting to track these birds and to learn more about their dispersal patterns, it also presents a great challenge for those of us conducting environmental education. What can we do to reach everyone who might come into contact with one of our birds?

The ruins at Tikal National Park
The ruins at Tikal National Park
Of the 13 eagles we have released in Belize, five have crossed the border and made their way into the Peten region of Guatemala at one time or another. A few have remained within the borders of Tikal National Park, while two have ventured out of the relative safety of a national park, and, unfortunately, have met their ends at the hands of humans.

Currently, there are two Harpy Eagles in Guatemala, a male named DT and a female named Ophelia. It is our hope that these birds will cross paths, meet, and pair up to begin reproducing in the wild. In order to turn this hope into a real possibility, it is imperative that these birds survive. Though there are many threats that a wild Harpy Eagle may face, probably none is greater than the human threat. In order to do everything within our means to prevent these eagles from being killed, we decided to make a second visit to Guatemala to conduct some environmental education activities in local communities (our first visit was in February of this year).

So, on Thanksgiving morning, Sean Davis, coordinator for TPFP’s Environmental Education Program, and I woke up at 2:30 a.m. in order to make it to the airport in time for the 5:45 a.m. flight. After stops and some plane changes in Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Guatemala City, we finally arrived in the small town of Flores, the beautiful island capital of the Peten, at around 6:30 p.m.

The following morning we woke up early and headed out to Tikal National Park (TNP), where we were met by their Environmental Education team. After arranging the logistics and gathering together the computer, projector, generator ,and educational materials, we were ready to get to work. The first community we visited was a small town called Zocotzal, which is located less than 10 km outside the border of TNP. The TNP staff really got the word out about our visit before hand so that at each community, we arrived to good-sized crowds waiting to hear all about the Harpy Eagle.

Sean Davis speaking in Zocotzal.
Sean Davis speaking in Zocotzal.
Our talk, a PowerPoint presentation, is designed to provide the listeners with information about the basic biology of the Harpy Eagle, its diet, nesting habits, and physical description. We also discuss its importance as a top predator. Most importantly, however, we try to dissipate people’s fear of such a large bird and emphasize the need to protect it. At the end of the presentation we passed out brochures and stuck around to answer any questions.

After our visit in Zocotzal, we also visited the communities of El Porvenir and Capulinar. In El Porvenir, particularly, people seemed quite interested in the work we were doing and expressed this interest through a series of interesting and well-thought out questions. In total, we reached 40 adults and 90 children. We also left several brochures and posters with the TNP team so that they could continue to visit other communities and continue to spread the important message of Harpy Eagle conservation.

Marta Curti speaking with community leader.
Marta Curti speaking with community leader.
Apart from the community visits, we also conducted television and radio interviews in which we also stressed the importance of protecting the Harpy Eagle and emphasizing that Harpy Eagles are not a threat to domestic animals or humans. The radio interview will be broadcast once a month! We will also receive a compilation DVD of the TV interview, which we will be able to use as an educational tool in other communities.

Though these are just the first steps in the long journey that is conservation education, Sean and I both felt that the trip was a huge success. We will certainly make other visits to Guatemala, but we left satisfied with what we had accomplished and hope that our work will help save the life of the next Harpy Eagle that ventures outside of the park and comes into contact with humans.

Find more articles about Harpy Eagle, Neotropics

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