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The last Harpy Eagles of Mexico: Alan Monroy’s quest to save one of the world’s largest raptors

24 April, 2022

Alan Monroy searching for Harpy Eagles in Lacandon Forest, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Alan Monroy-Ojeda.

The largest bird of prey in the American tropics, the Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja), is in danger of extinction in all Mesoamerican countries, from Mexico to Panama. Harpy Eagles’ ecological importance as apex predators and their cultural value as symbols of power and beauty in human societies make them a priority species for conservation. In order to prioritize search and monitoring efforts for this magnificent bird, Mexican researcher Alan Monroy-Ojeda has developed a species distribution model to reevaluate the Harpy Eagle’s current distribution in Mesoamerica, with a special emphasis on Mexico.

In this effort, Alan has used reports of Harpy Eagles he has compiled together with information on climate, topography, elevation, hydrology, and vegetation cover to identify priority areas for Harpy Eagle conservation. In addition, he has also worked with groups of local residents to raise awareness of Harpy Eagles and their need for protection, including creating original artwork for use in conservation booklets distributed to the public.

Harpy Eagle artwork created by Alan Monroy-Ojeda for an environmental awareness booklet in Mexico.

Thanks to an IBCP Partnership Grant and many supporters, Alan has contributed more than 40 current and historical reports of the Harpy Eagle in Mexico, including personal field records and testimonies of indigenous people, to produce maps of Harpy Eagle habitat suitability and potential distribution. These maps provide a guide to where biologists and citizen scientists can focus Harpy Eagle search and monitoring efforts in the field. Alan has presented his findings to date at the recent Raptor Research Foundation virtual conference, and his work forms part of his master’s thesis and will be published as a peer-reviewed science paper.

As a result of this work, Alan was invited to participate as an expert in the update of Mexico’s National Action Plan for Endangered Eagle Conservation, which directly addresses national conservation policies, and in the IUCN Redlist reassessment for the Harpy Eagle, which has resulted in its being recognized as a species considered Vulnerable to extinction. Alan’s relentless quest to save the last Harpy Eagles in Mexico shows how one man’s vision, passion, and dedication can make a crucial difference for birds and provide inspiration to us all.

Map of Harpy Eagle potential distribution by Alan Monroy-Ojeda.

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