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 confirmed an injured juvenile Harpy Eagle that the officer of the Environmental National Authority of Panama (ANAM) rescued in the community of Chocolatal (outside of our study area). This juvenile was found by local people in the vicinity of the village where they practice agriculture. The eagle was moved to the Summit Zoo Garden in Panama City for veterinary care, but weeks after she died for unknown causes. An administrator of the ANAM regional office of Darien reported that in the Embera community called Nuevo Vigia (outside the study area), a hunter killed an adult Harpy Eagle close to an active nest. There was a juvenile in the nest, which was being fed by the adult survivor. The ANAM officials feared that this juvenile could die from starvation.

Monitoring productivity: We monitored 35 pairs (47 nest sites). Less than 10% of the known pairs present reproductive activity. The decrease in the breeding productivity at certain times of the year is the result of the dispersal of juveniles and failures during the incubation process (probably due to human disturbance in the breeding area).

Habitat description

We started to analyze changes in breeding habitat at the landscape level to determine threats and tolerance of the species to human pressure. Preliminary analysis suggested that the species could migrate to better areas to breed when the forest decreases in extent and lost connectivity. The main limitation to continue with this analysis is the license to use the software ArcView.

Capturing and tracking Harpy Eagles

Capture: We attempted to capture and radio-tag three juvenile and one adult. We only captured one juvenile. Harpy Eagles are very evasive and cryptic, which makes their capture difficult.

Tracking: We tracked three juveniles and one adult using conventional and satellite telemetry. We collected 1,340 location fixes from both methods. Most of the GPS locations were set in mature forest, indicating that these individuals prefer to use this type of habitat. We were unable to locate two of the birds because the transmitters did not emit signals.

Data was collected on diet, movements, dispersal rates, behavior, interaction with other species, and habitat use. We recorded 25 prey items and identified Kinkajou (31.6%) as the main prey followed by Three-toed Sloth (26.3%), Howler Monkey (10.5%), Two-toed Sloth, Capuchin Monkey, Common Opossum, and Coati Mundi (all with 5.3%).


We reinforced the local capacity by training seven technicians and six volunteers in conservation and research techniques. Participatory technique is the main strategy to training the local people. “Learning in action” is the best way to increase the local capacity and to raise empowerment of the local community leader, technicians and volunteers about the environmental threat that they and the Harpy Eagles face.

As part of this method of training, technicians and volunteers were included in different activities to reinforce their knowledge and abilities. They conducted an informal environmental campaign in one Wounaan and five Embera communities. Locals participated in project activities using radio tracking equipment. Currently, all our technicians and volunteers are trained in basic aspects of research and environmental education techniques.

We also supported the formal education of 33 local students from five communities. This is an important contribution for the local people because it helps to create thinking skills to forge new economic expectations that favor their families and communities, as well as benefiting the environment because they would probably reduce their dependence on the natural resources.

Environmental Education

We conducted environmental educational activities in five communities (Cémaco, Taimati, La India, Llano Bonito, and Aldea Embera) to disseminate information about the project objectives and results. We visited house-to-house to speak with the owners. The total audiences were 1,500 people (adults and children).

Our methods are: environmental talk about specific subject, environmental games, conversation face-to-face with the local people, and workshops.

We again participated in the FestiHarpia. At our exhibit, we offered information about the project (goals, objectives, results) to nearly 600 people.


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