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.
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.
Nest searches: We found a new Harpy Eagle nest close to the Pichinde Region. We saw both adults in the nest (the female was inside the nest, probably incubating). In the same region, we tried to verify two reports of nests. We found the nests but could not confirm that they belonged to Harpy Eagles. In the Rocha Stream region, we tried to find a nest where a young juvenile was observed by a local volunteer. This observation took place close to a confirmed nest that is inactive, and we presume that this pair has alternate nests in the surrounding area. We did not locate the nest.
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).
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.
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.
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