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Nov 15, 2013

Panama, the harpy eagle, turns 10

On November first, Belize mourned the loss of April, the oldest tapir in captivity. Today, however, it celebrated the birthday of Panama, a captive-bred harpy eagle imported from its namesake country. There was enough food and drinks to go around and even visitors of the Belize Zoo got in on the festivities. News Five’s Duane Moody was there and has this report.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

Students from schools within the Rio Bravo area in the Orange Walk District gathered at the Belize Zoo today to celebrate the tenth birthday of Panama, a harpy eagle that was bred in captivity in that country. The predatory species is a rarity in the forests of Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. But through a local program, some sixteen of the birds have been released in the northern part of the country. The students were thrilled to come up close and personal with Panama, who has become very people friendly.

 

Sharon Matola, Director, Belize Zoo

Sharon Matola

“You can see that some of them are dressed up as harpy eagles. They have an appreciation of not just harpy eagles, but all the birds of Belize. And they come to the Zoo, they leave happy and they are well educated about their country’s wildlife. And that cannot be replaced. Panama has been used to people. One of the things that we do since none of the animals can be released into the wild; we spend tons of time with them. They get to know people, they get to like children; Panama has heard his song sung to him many times. That keeps him people friendly to have that bond alive and well and active at the zoo makes the difference. You can’t let them go and they are all ambassadors for the species out there.”

 

Harpy eagles are the largest and most powerful eagles in the Americas and one of the three largest in the world. It can weigh up to eighteen pounds and has a wingspan of six and a half feet. And since 2003, the Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Program started at the Belize Zoo and is being done in partnership with the Peregrine Fund-Panama Office, Programme for Belize, and Belize Forest Department.

 

Sharon Matola

“The journey this bird went through because he was bred in captivity. Panama was supposed to be released into the forest of Belize. When he did hatch, his eye was damaged and the Peregrine Fund, who Jonathan works for…they really didn’t know what to do with Panama and I begged them. I said please, give us Panama; I promise we will build a great home for him and he will educate thousands of people about his species. It is remarkable the change in people’s perception in harpy eagles since Panama has come to the zoo.”

 

One of the biggest supports of this initiative is the British Government and today, recently installed British High Commissioner, Peter Hughes, spoke of the long-standing relationship that his country has had with the program.

 

Peter Hughes, British High Commissioner

Peter Hughes

“We’ve been supporting this zoo for many eyras now in different ways. We supported in fact, the harpy eagle itself when it was brought here—to enable that to happen. From our point of view, this zoo is a good way of educating people about their own environment, about the problems the environment is facing and to learn about what climate change really means in terms of Belize itself.”

 

But the celebration was two-fold, as Jonathan Urbina of the Peregrine Fund took the opportunity to present the zoo with a display of feathers from native Belizean birds. According to Urbina, it took him some ten plus years to collect the assorted feathers and to create the masterpiece.

 

Jonathan Urbina

Jonathan Urbina, Representative, Peregrine Fund

“Instead of them going to rot when it rains or just leave them out, I actually collect them. It started back in 2000. The first feather was presented by Miss Caroline Miller, a well known worker in conservation here in Belize and after that it turned into an obsession. Every place I would go, I would always be watching on the ground picking up these feathers. Some of them were actually gifts; some were from Sharon herself. And I just want people to appreciate the beauty that makes the birds and it is the feathers. All of them are from Belize.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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