Experiences with the Reintroduction of a Captive-bred Harpy Eagle into a wild Ecosystem in Darien, Panama.
José de Jesús Vargas González— 8 March 2010 — in Harpy Eagle Conservation and Research ShareTwo seasons have gone by in the Neotropical forest of Darien since the release of the Harpy Eagle called KC, well-known in the local community as Nepono, which means “flower” in the Embera language. KC was released into the Forest Reserve of Chepigana with several goals in mind - all of which are aimed at developing guidelines for a successful reintroduction of captive-bred Harpy Eagles in natural environments where wild Harpy Eagles already live. We decided to release KC in the forest surrounding the community of La Marea, for several reasons. But, the main idea was to influence a courtship between our captive-bred bird and a resident wild male Harpy Eagle that recently lost his mate.
In order to collect data after KC was released, we established a monitoring plan. Each day, we followed KC for at least five hours to document any interactions with the wild male Harpy Eagle or other individuals. We collected bioecological data, which is important for making better management decisions aimed at conserving this threatened species and its habitat.
Our intention to bring KC and the wild male together was not successful. Many hypotheses can explain or justify why these two birds did not mate. Perhaps it was KC’s age and/or the possible natural incompatibility between them. However, only these birds know the exact reasons. Nevertheless, we learned a lot from this unsuccessful part of the experiment. We documented intra-specific interactions with wild Harpy Eagles and collected data to gain a better understanding of the tolerance level and adaptability of this species in different types of ecosystems. Today, our preliminary data suggest that: 1. KC is not a resource competitor for other adult and juvenile Harpy Eagles; 2. KC has adapted successfully to a natural environment; 3. KC had positive interactions with other individuals of her species; 4. KC can use different types of forests, with homogeneous and heterogeneous ecosystems, including areas with human intervention; and 5. KC is an excellent icon to raise awareness in local communities about the conservation of this species.
We monitored KC’s movements through mature forests with open understory vegetation as well as through complex habitats where the dense vegetation made it very difficult to move. This Harpy Eagle has utilized mainly mature forests with large homogeneous extensions. But we have also followed her into mangrove forests, cativales, and secondary forests as well as agricultural fields. This diversity of habitat suggests this species’ great adaptability, as long as it is not killed by humans.
What motivates KC to move great distances? We can speculate and say that it is because she is a young eagle, wandering, and flying without direction. Or it may just be due to disorientation from being in a completely new environment. Perhaps she is looking for an ideal area that meets her requirements, or maybe it is because she found other eagles in the surroundings and prefers an empty territory. Perhaps it is because she is young and is searching for a mate, and later a territory and a good place to build her nest. There are many questions that arise from KC’s movement patterns. Day by day we collect more data and we are better equipped to study her habitat requirements and closer to understanding her behaviour.
Anthropogenic barriers, such as deforested areas, may force KC to deviate from her path, and occasionally use forest remnants to surpass poor habitats and reach better areas. Each inference that we make from observations of KC creates new concerns regarding the requirements for healthy populations of Harpy Eagles, especially in contrast to the growing trend in soil use and deforestation.
Today, in the study area our work team is known as the “Harpy Eagles”. Both children and adults call us eagles and ask us about Nepono, who has become a popular individual, especially among children. This is the result of the radio advertising that we constantly play so that all the community learns about Harpy Eagles, especially about Nepono.
A lot more work is necessary to accomplish our research with KC, but we have the energy and enthusiasm to continue following our wild flower “Nepono.”
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