First Pictures of Released Harpy Eagle
June 1998   

On thursday March 12th I was privileged to see and take pictures of the two harpy eagles (male and female) released by the Peregrine Fund in Soberania National Park on January 15, 1998. This is the first time that a person not directly associated with The Peregrine Fund is allowed to visit the area where the eagles are. To see these magnificent endangered birds in the wild and to realize they were hatched in a laboratory thousands of miles away was, indeed, a memorable experience which I would like to share with you now.

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I met Shane Davis and Angel Muela, the Peregrine Fund’s officials in charge of this program the day before in the Summit Gardens. I was carrying a digital camera (Sony Mavica) which aroused Angel’s curiosity, “This is just what we need to take pictures of the eagles and send to the people in Boise”, said Angel. Immediately, I offered to take the pictures myself and they accepted the offer. Therefore, the following day at 7 AM, we were hiking through Soberania National Park looking for the harpies.

We first saw the female, she was perched in a branch of a very common tree in Panama’s rainforests, the Espave, she was about 15 meters high and approximately 25 meters from where I took these pictures. We sat down on the forest floor and just admired this beautiful bird for about 15 minutes. Then, Shane took out a dead white rat, imported from the USA, attached it to a rope and put it up in a branch where she usually eats her meals. So far she has refused to eat local food, for example, a dead sloth sent up by Shane some days ago. Sooner or later she’ll have to change her eating habits, for obvious reasons. After some time watching her we moved to another spot, farther up the hill, so I could take pictures at a different angle. Here is one of these additional photos of Hope.

We had been in the site for about one hour and still I had not seen the male Harpy. Shane and Angel explained that he is very shy and is not developing as fast as the female. (This is not surprising to me considering that the same thing happens to most males of the specie Homo sapiens). Sometime ago they had to recapture him and put him back in the release cage because he refused to eat in the wild. After 5 days he was released again and he is now eating well but has not climbed up as high as Hope and remains in some low branches at about 4 meters (12 feet) from the ground. At this point Shane decided to feed the male and see if he would come out in the open and eat. So he climbed up a ladder and put up another dead white rat (bred in the USA) on a horizontal log. We waited for about an hour but the male never came out. He was probably shy as he had never seen more than two people in the area. He did make a lot of noise, a high pitch call somewhat similar to the call of many raptors.

After I had taken about 40 pictures we decided to go back. We had been in the area for about 3 hours and I had to get back to Panama City. On the way back we stopped by a huge Panama tree and with the tripod and the camera on automatic took this picture of the three of us. Then we visited the release site and found that a huge branch of a tree had fallen the night before right next to the structure. It missed it by about 4 feet, thanks God! Finally, we stopped by the cabin where Shane and Angel live and called it a day!

And what a day it was…. the Harpy Eagle is indeed a magnificent bird and I felt privileged for having observed it at leisure. I sincerely hope that this experiment will be successful and in 5-6 years Hope and Hector will mate and the species will have been reintroduced into Parque Nacional Soberania. My thanks to The Peregrine Fund, and to Shane and Angel of course, for this splendid effort to give back to Panama what deforestation and poachers took away many years ago.

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