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AFC Flag Expedition #1:
Observing & Portraying the Endangered Harpy Eagle & its Habitat
Expedition Artist: David N. Kitler
Purpose: To conduct most comprehensive artistic study to date of the Harpy Eagle in support of conservation efforts currently underway to restore the species to its historical ranges.
Location: Panama, Central America
Scheduled For: December 2005
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THE HARPY EAGLE
The Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) once ranged from Mexico to Argentina. Unfortunately, the Harpy Eagle has disappeared almost entirely and has become one of the most critically endangered species in the world today, with its numbers declining sharply. Because Harpy Eagles have the largest home ranges (a pair needs 30 square kilometres of forest to thrive), and survive at the top of the food chain. As such, they are also good indicator species, representing the general health of the ecosystem in which they live. HARPY EAGLE FACTS
  • The female Harpy Eagle can weigh up to 9kg (20lbs), with a wing span of about 2.1m (7ft). The female is generally almost twice as large as the male.

  • The Harpy Eagle's hind talons are the size of tiger or grizzly bear claws. These talons exert enough pressure to crush the bones of sloths, monkeys, and other prey it snatches from the forest canopy.

  • The Harpy Eagle has been known to take another bird's nest, along with everything in it, and carry it to its own nest in a neat package to feed its young.

  • The Harpy Eagles, although very large, movse quietly in the dense forest, using stealth as its primary hunting technique.

  • An eaglet leaves the nest at about 6 months, but remains dependent on the parents for food for another 1-2 years. A pairs produces only one chick every 2-3 years. Young birds do not become sexually mature until the age of 4 or 5.

BIGGEST THREATS
The Harpy Eagle, the most powerful bird of prey in the world, has few (if any) natural predators. Only humans are a threat to this species, mainly through the practice of one of the following:

  • direct persecution: adult birds are killed for food, for their feathers (worn as a symbol of power), for shamanistic practices, or in fear. Villagers in Panama recently shot an adult female Harpy Eagle because they were afraid that such a large and powerful bird might attack and eat their children, even though no such attacks have ever been recorded.

  • loss of habitat - deforestation due to development, logging, and agriculture: as the Harpy Eagle needs large tracts of healthy forest to survive, this has proven to be one of the biggest threats for its survival. Because of its long chick-rearing period and delayed sexual maturity, these external threats are extremely hard to offset, making it increasingly difficult for diminishing populations to rebound. This has led to this species' current critically endangered status.

ECOLOGICAL NICHE / ROLE IN NATURE
As with other birds of prey, the Harpy Eagle sits at the top of the food chain. The presence of the Harpy Eagle is said to indicate the health of a forest's ecosystem, as top predators are among the first to disappear when pristine habitat is altered. Where the Harpy Eagle thrives, the tropical forest - along with all other species it contains - thrives as well.

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