THE HARPY EAGLE IN PANAMA
Around 50 years ago, 70% of Panama was covered by forest; today, that number is just over 40%, making deforestation one of the country's worst environmental problems. The destruction of the rainforest not only wipes out the animals that live in it, but has also lead to soil erosion and water shortages, and is a threat to traditional indigenous cultures. According to the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, there are over 100 species threatened with extinction within Panama, including the Harpy Eagle, jaguars, and all five species of sea turtles. It becomes imperative that these species are protected from any further threats.
Conservation of the Harpy Eagle in Panama received a helping hand when the Harpy Eagle became the country's National Bird in 2002. This status has translated into greater public education and awareness, mingled with national pride at being the home of such a majestic bird. It has also provided the legal clout necessary for the enforcement of anti-poaching laws. Today Panama has the largest concentration of Harpy Eagles in all of Central America, at an estimated 200 breeding pairs.
Panama is also the home of the Neotropical Raptor Center, a facility funded and managed by The Peregrine Fund for the captive breeding of Harpy Eagles for subsequent release in the wild. The Center utilizes the same species restoration techniques that were used to re-establish Peregrine Falcon populations, and to date almost 30 captive-bred Harpy Eagles have been released in Panama and Belize. If everything continues to go well, some of these Harpy Eagles should start reproducing by 2007.
The majority of Panamanians are indifferent to the environmental devastation occurring in their country, but a few organizations are trying to protect the forest and its biodiversity, chief among them ANCON (National Association for the Conservation of Nature). Founded in 1985 by academic and business leaders, ANCON has played a major role in the creation of Panama's national parks. The WNAG's First Flag Expedition to the jungles of Panama provides much needed support for ANCON's conservation and education efforts. It should be mentioned that even the more accessible Harpy Eagle nesting sites in the Darien Province are in remote areas of the forest, making the monitoring of activity levels trickier (although not impossible) to accomplish.