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How the killing of an eagle led to the birth of a new raptor conservation initiative in Colombia

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

18 January, 2022

By Mateo Giraldo Amaya on behalf of Proyecto Grandes Rapaces Colombia

A Harpy Eagle in Colombia. Photo by Mateo Giraldo Amaya on behalf of Proyecto Grandes Rapaces Colombia.

In 2016, I saw my first Harpy Eagle. Sadly, the eagle was dead, the victim of a fatal attack. At that moment, I decided to dedicate myself to research and conservation of birds of prey. In the years since then, I received technical and practical training and initiated Proyecto Grandes Rapaces Colombia, to protect large raptor species. Thanks to our strategic alliances, we have been able to train in tree climbing and install camera traps to monitor nests of Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja), Ornate Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus ornatus), King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa), Crested Eagle (M. guianensis), and Common Black-Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus).

This type of monitoring is rare in Latin American level and unique at the country level. Our work and results have allowed us to reach four departments of Colombia, and through our poster "Where is the Harpy?" we have managed to expand our network to 500 members throughout the country, taking the message of conservation even to regions where armed conflict does not allow us to enter directly. We recently published a paper that was used by the IUCN to change the conservation status of the Harpy Eagle from Near Threatened to Vulnerable, something that we hope will bring this species the attention it deserves, considering the threats to its survival.

“Where is the Harpy?” educational poster in rural Colombia. Photo by Mateo Giraldo Amaya on behalf of Proyecto Grandes Rapaces Colombia.

This year, we hope to grow and expand our network of allies but in and outside the country. We will put an IBCP Seed Grant to work towards our project, “Conserving raptors and enriching lives: Trail cameras document eagle biology and educate local citizens in a rainforest biodiversity hotspot.” Through this project, we will work to create positive relationships between Colombian communities and eagles and mitigate eagle-human conflicts.

Our work has just begun, and much remains to be done in terms of generating knowledge and conservation measures in Colombian territory. We recently identified the nest of a Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle (S. melanoleucus) in the Amazon, and continue to search for nests of the Solitary Eagle (B. solitarius). Our partnership with IBCP will help us generate information on the reproductive ecology of the Harpy Eagle, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, and other large raptors, document threats and conflicts with local communities, and develop collaborative conservation actions for these species at the local and regional levels.

The more we learn about these magnificent eagles and other raptors, the better we can understand their situations and respond to their urgent need for conservation. Working together, we can prevent tragic and needless deaths and protect Colombia’s incredible birds of prey, such that the first Harpy Eagle I saw needlessly killed will also be the last.

Proyecto Grandes Rapaces Colombia team showing a Harpy Eagle to local children. Photo by Mateo Giraldo Amaya on behalf of Proyecto Grandes Rapaces Colombia.

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