Harpy Eagle

in Neotropical Program:

Status: Active, started in 1990

All projects within this project:


Conserve Harpy Eagles and their habitat through a combination of environmental education, increased involvement from local communities, and basic research aimed at testing scientific hypotheses about their ecology in the Pacific region of Darien Province in Panama.


The expansion of human populations in Central and South America have brought widespread deforestation, alterations, fragmentation of habitat, and increased pressure on natural resources. As a top predator, the Harpy Eagle has a relatively low reproductive rate and its populations are rapidly reduced by persecution; the recovery of decimated populations can take many years. Viable Harpy Eagle populations need large areas of forest and the species may be very sensitive to deforestation. It is endangered in Mesoamerica, and South American populations may become threatened or lost in the future as forest diminishes. Large tracts of land and proper connectivity may be needed to secure the long-term survival of this species.

Preserving large segments of forests for Harpy Eagles will also represent a significant contribution to the protection of Neotropical lowland forests, among the most species-rich environments of the planet. The Harpy Eagle would act as an umbrella species: by conserving it, we are conserving biodiversity.

Recent Results:

Mortality, nest searches and monitoring of breeding activity

Mortality: We documented that natural causes were the major reason of mortality of Harpy Eagles in Darien province. Four chicks (1-3 months old; three females and one male) fell down from their nest and died, and one adult female Harpy Eagle was probably killed by an adult Two-toed Sloth. We did not record reports of dead or injured Harpy Eagle by human causes.

Nest searches: Three new Harpy Eagle nest reports were documented, two reports coming from the community of Llano Bonito and one from the community of La Marea.

Monitoring productivity: We assessed the breeding status of 37 known Harpy Eagle pairs (N=53 nests).

Habitat studies

Habitat use by juveniles: We collected habitat data in 10 control plots in order to understand the habitat use by juveniles Harpy Eagles.

Habitat suitability model: We updated the habitat suitability model for nesting. This model was developed using GIS tools by including biological variables and anthropic variables in areas where Harpy Eagles were nesting. As a preliminary result, we quantified that 2.7% of the good quality habitats for breeding have disappeared by forest degradation between 2006 and 2010

Habitat degradation at nest sites: We started to analyze the landscape change in breeding habitats of Harpy Eagles using GIS tools and characterized images of the study are from 1993 to 2006. Preliminary results showed that the changes of the forest to agriculture areas could be the biggest problem for the persistence of the currently known breeding pairs.

Tracking Harpy Eagles

We tracked and collected data from one wild adult female Harpy Eagle banded with the leg band KZ. This Harpy Eagle was tagged with a PTT-100 (ID: 84536) on November 29, 2012. Unfortunately, the radio transmitters (VHF and PTT) of this eagle stopped working, and we could not replace it because her chick fell down from the nest and she abandoned the nesting area. The current data demonstrated that adult Harpy Eagles could use different type of land cover (forest, forest edge, riparian forest, disturbed areas, farm lands, among other) but prefer to use mainly primary forest. We documented that KZ could hunt together with her male mate.

The juvenile female with the leg band LZ was tagged with a PTT-100 and VHF radio transmitter on August 12, 2012. A few months after placing the VHF radio transmitter, it stopped working, but the PTT-100 continues sending data.


Learning in action is the method that we applied to train seven technicians and six volunteers in Darien. This participatory methodology is the best way to increase the empowerment of the local leaders for conservation awareness. Through the implementation of the normal project activities, every quarter in the field the technicians and volunteers got training, expertise and competence in specific research and environmental issues.

The technicians and volunteers participated in the following activities:

  • Monitoring breeding activities in the currently known Harpy Eagle nest
  • Obtaining data of breeding behavior
  • Training volunteers
  • Carrying out environmental activities with children and adults

A biology student from USA Rachel Guinea participated in a field trip to Darien. She was involved in the following activities: (1) collecting data of vegetation structure in habitat used by juveniles during the dispersal period, (2) teaching children about the biology of the Harpy Eagle at the local school in Cémaco Community, and (3) monitoring the productivity at a Harpy Eagle nest.

We continue to support the formal education of 33 people from the local communities where we are working. This is an important contribution for the local people because it helps them to create thinking skills to forge new economic expectations that benefit their families and communities, as well as benefiting the environment because they would probably reduce their dependence of the natural resources.

Conservation and Environmental Education

Conservation: We conducted one participatory workshop for 10 leaders of the community of Llano Bonito to identify the major environmental problems affecting the Harpy Eagle and human communities. We also applied 900 diagnostic surveys in seven local communities. With these two activities, we demonstrated that people and Harpy Eagle share the same environmental problems: forest degradation, illegal hunting of wildlife, and illegal invaders.

We conducted informal meetings in three communities (Aldea Embera, Cemaco and Llano Bonito) in order to implement community-based conservation actions, including the design of an ecotourism plan. We had acceptance in the communities, and we (this project and communities) started the design of this ecotourism plan. The communities’ leaders constituted committees in order to organize the communities to get the best ideas and results. Local people are working in creating and putting ideas together before each meeting

One important result has been the expulsion of land invaders who were reported by local people and by us to ANAM. Campesinos invaders were expelled from the Chepigana Forest Reserve, which is one of more important areas for the reproduction of the largest known Harpy Eagle population in Central America. Community leaders are on alert, watching to see whether the invaders return.

Environmental education: We imparted 10 environmental presentations in the communities of Aldea Embera (n=1), Cémaco (n=3), Llano Bonito (n=1) and Panama City (n=5). The total audience was 600 children and teenagers. In each talk, we conducted pre- and post evaluation tests to measure how well the educational objective had been achieved.

We broadcast 50 radio messages in the radio station Voz Sin Frontera. The topic of these messages was about the Harpy Eagle conservation status and threats. We designed, printed, and distributed 2,000 Harpy Eagle calendars which have relevant information about the species’ importance and care.


Project Links:

Project History Notes From The Field
Publications and Data Other Information
Photos and Videos

Location Note:


Species involved

People involved in this project:

Rick Watson Ph.D. Vice President and Director of International Programs
Edwin Campbell Biologist
Marta Curti Biologist
Hernán Vargas Ph.D. Program director – Neotropical Science and Student Education
José de Jesús Vargas-González Biologist
Rigoberto Aripio Volunteer
Leofano Berrugate Technician
Rutilio Calderón Technician
Darisnel Carpio Technician
Melania Cedeño Student
Calixto Conampia Technician
Ednilio Degracia Technician
Florecindo Guainora Volunteer
Arilio Ismare Technician
Arnulfo Minguizama Volunteer
Sonia Sanchez Volunteer
Aristides Tascon Volunteer
Dasminia R. Vargas González Student
Former Staff, Volunteers and Collaborators:
Angel Muela Biologist
Indalesio Mecheche
Indalesio Mecheche Jr.
Roderick Vargas González Volunteer

Cooperating Partners:

  • BBC TV
  • Belize Forestry Department
  • Belize Zoo
  • City of Knowledge
  • Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund
  • Ecological Police
  • Embera and Wounaan Communities of Darien
  • Environmental Authority of Panama (ANAM)
  • National Environmental Authority (ANAM)
  • Panama Canal Authority (ACP)
  • Panama’s Universidad Autonóma de Chiriquí
  • Programme for Belize
  • Sociedad Mastozoológica de Panamá
  • Stichting De Harpij
  • Tierras Colectiva Embera y Wounaan
  • Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation