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Adventure in the Forests of Darien: Who is Nepono? A Children’s Perspective
José de Jesús Vargas González — in Harpy Eagle Conservation and Research    Share
“Nepono is a four-year-old Harpy Eagle that hatched in captivity in Panama City. She is curious, calm, observant, and, most importantly, a peaceful bird: this eagle would never cause any harm to people. We should protect and conserve her in this amazing forest.” This was the answer Embera technician, Liofano Berrugate, gave to a child’s question, ”who is Nepono?”

And… “What does Nepono eat?” This question came from a little boy. I was amazed by this question, since this particular child had participated in several of the environmental talks we have given in this community. Instead of answering the question, I asked the boy: “What does the Harpy Eagle eat here in Darien?” He responded immediately: “the Harpy Eagle eats “buchas” (sloths), gototus (Howler Monkeys), bichichi (Geofrroy’s Tamarin), and sometimes opogas (iguanas).” After hearing this correct answer, I asked: “Then, why do you ask me what Nepono eats?” And he answered, “I thought that Nepono eats special food, because she is from the city…!”

Harpy Eagle drawing by Rosa Amalia
Harpy Eagle drawing by Rosa Amalia
After a brief explanation about Nepono, and her ecology, Rosa Amalia, an 11-year-old girl asked me, “Can we draw Nepono?” That question triggered an improvised environmental education activity with the children of the La Marea community. The children, between four and 12 years old, drew their vision of Harpy Eagles; some drawings looked like other birds of prey, whereas others had very impressive similarity with Harpy Eagles. After they had finished drawing, Liofano and I asked some of the children to explain their art. Rosa Amalia was the first volunteer to explain her drawing of a juvenile Harpy Eagle perched in a tree in disturbed forest. I asked her: “Why didn’t you draw a beautiful forest?” She responded: “because I know that the Harpies like areas like this, too. I drew the area around my grandfather’s farm, where I saw Harpy Eagles several times and even possible prey species such as monkeys.” She also exclaimed: “my grandfather doesn't kill Harpy Eagles, because they help to protect and control plagues in our cultivations, such as zuzumas (Coatis) and bichichi (Geofrroy’s Tamarin).”

Rosa Amalia took the opportunity to give us an educational talk on why we should conserve the Harpy Eagle. In a few minutes this little girl explained in colloquial and simple words some basic concepts of habitat use, diet, and positive mutualism interactions between human and eagles. Rosa’s perception about Harpy Eagles is the result of personal experiences and an exchange of cultural knowledge with her parents. Looking more closely at Rosa Amalia’s drawing, I asked her: “Why does your Harpy Eagle have small legs?” She smiled innocently and said: “Because, with small legs Nepono can hold tight in the branches of the tree.” Right away, Kelvin a boy of 12 exclaimed: “Now, Me…!”

Harpy Eagle drawing by Kelvin
Harpy Eagle drawing by Kelvin
Just as with Rosa Amalia’s drawing, Kelvin’s picture also doesn’t include forest. Kelvin explained that he didn’t have time to draw a pretty forest, as we find around La Marea community. But, he drew a mountain, because “Harpy Eagles like to live there.” He gave details about his drawing and mentioned the fact that he drew two Harpy Eagles because he heard in a community meeting that Nepono, the eagle of Panamá, doesn’t have a mate, and came to La Marea to find one. Kelvin drew a picture of a lonely Harpy Eagle, which comes to Darien to be happy together with other Harpies in the mountain.

I asked: “Kelvin, have you seen wild Harpy Eagles?” He said “no,” but with a strong and secure voice, Kelvin called out: “I don’t see Harpy Eagles in the field, but I know a lot about them, because Kathia, Saskia, Marta, you, and your team gave talks and presented videos in our communities, and I learned all about them. I will remember forever these words. Examples like this encourage us to continue working in the field. At this moment, I smiled, and said: “thank you very much Kelvin for your words.”

Harpy Eagle drawing by Reinaldo
Harpy Eagle drawing by Reinaldo
Then, Liofano whispered “Who is the author of this amazing drawing?” Then, Reinaldo stood up, and said, ”It’s mine.” Reinaldo is a 10-year-old boy from La Marea. His drawing was elaborate, with very contrasting colors. This boy drew a Harpy Eagle hunting an armadillo. As he talked about his drawing he said: “my mother told us every day “barriga llena, corazón contento” which mean: “full stomach, happy heart”… so then, if Nepono can find good prey in this forest in La Marea, she will be here forever.” Everyone in this activity enjoyed Reinaldo’s short, interesting and innocent description of the life of a Harpy Eagle.

Liofano and I had a lot of fun listening to the children’s stories.. We learned a lot from them and they, in turn, had an unusual afternoon… they didn’t swim in the river, or play soccer, or go out to work with their fathers—this afternoon they spent teaching us about their perception of nature.

We conclude that Nepono is a Harpy Eagle of La Marea—she is happy because she has a lot of prey to hunt, like monkeys and sloths; she is happy in the forest of La Marea because there are other eagles in this ecosystem; Nepono likes to inhabit the mountain, and that sometimes she visits disturbed forests to hunt animals that can be harmful to our crops. But no one said it better than Muzula, a three-year-old, girl when she exclaimed “It is our National Bird, then we need to take care of her.”

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