Friday, September 27, 2013

Curiosity Killed the Harpy Eagle!

Harpy Eagle Nestling
     An adult female Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) weighs of up to 10 kg (22 lbs.) and is the largest raptor in the Americas and one of the largest in the world. They live in tropical forests from Central America to northern Argentina. This eagle is sensitive to human disturbance and is the first species to disappear when humans move into their territory. Currently, the Harpy Eagle is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List as Near Threatened and extinct in most of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest ((IUCN) 2013). Although indigenous hunters capture them occasionally for ceremonial purposes, they are not typically hunting them as game.
Female Harpy Eagle  (photo by Raptor Canyon)
     Unfortunately, recent studies have documented Harpy Eagle killings in rural southern Brazil. (Trinca et al. 2008) conducted a study in the municipalities of Alta Floresta and Nova Bandeirantes, in northern Mato Grosso, Brazil. The Alta Floresta has suffered high deforestation leaving only 37% of original forest cover. In contrast, Nova Bandeirantes, colonised in 1981, has lost less than 15% of the municipality’s original forest due to landowners upholding federal legislation, which limits deforestation to 50% of each property. This is important because the high rate of deforestation is the main reason for the declining population of Harpy Eagles ((IUCN) 2013).
     The results of the (Trinca et al. 2008) study are quite disturbing. In addition to the Harpy Eagle killings several other important raptor species are being killed such as Crested Eagles (Morphnus guianensis) and Ornate Hawk-Eagles (Spizaetus ornatus). Five of the eagles kill were to satisfy the curiosity of the hunter. One explanation is that most colonos are immigrants from rural south and east of Brazil, where Harpy Eagles are either extremely rare or extinct, have never seen this eagle. The other reason, for killing the eagle, was to protect small livestock from the perceived or actual risk of having an eagle in the area. The presence of a Harpy Eagle near human activity may be a result of lower prey due to the deforestation and habitat fragmentation.

     The number of eagles killed may appear small but they impact the local Harpy Eagle population because a single breeding pair may possess a home range of over 25× 25 km. In addition, Harpy Eagles are long living predators and reproduce only one nestling every two years. As an apex predator, Harpy Eagles play an important role in the forest ecosystems by regulating the populations of mesopredators such as capuchins (Cebus spp.) a type of New World monkey. The absence of such apex predators will have a negative impact on biodiversity that contributes to cascade effects as well as accelerating local extinctions of sensitive species. Therefore, the removal of such arbitrary hunting pressure would undoubtedly contribute significantly to long-term conservation. This statement sums up the problem and solution for all raptors sharing the Earth with humans:

If ignorance is the main enemy of the Harpy Eagle on the Amazonian frontier, education is surely its principal ally, and the same characteristics that attract the attention of the curious hunter, can undoubtedly be part of a well-planned education program to not only satisfy the local population’s curiosity and eliminate misconceptions about the species, but to provide a springboard for conservation initiatives in frontier municipalities (Trinca et al. 2008).

 Remember as you live your life, it may affect a species of raptor that shares its habitat with you. 

 To learn more about the eagles:
Literature Cited


  1. Nice article about harpy eagles, my most favorite raptor! Mature forests are extremely important to harpy eagles, because their main prey are sloths and monkeys. Deforestation not only removes nesting habitat, but also the primary food source. Sad!

  2. So true! ...and it is sad.

    Harpy Eagles are one of my favorite raptors as well.


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