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FedEx Helps The Peregrine Fund Transport a Harpy Eagle to New Home in the Rainforests of Belize
21 December 2009
Normally, Harpy Eagles have no trouble flying from one place to another. But Hope, a Harpy Eagle bred in captivity by The Peregrine Fund in Panama, was temporarily grounded when trying to reach a site in Belize where he would be released to the wild.
"FedEx came to the rescue," said Angel Muela, a biologist with The Peregrine Fund, a conservation group for birds of prey. Previously, Harpy Eagles were transported to the release site on another airline, which changed its policy and no longer agreed to fly live animals.
The Peregrine Fund leads a re-introduction and recovery program for Harpy Eagles in Central America, where shooting by humans and loss of rainforest habitat has caused a dramatic decline in the number of the huge birds of prey. The eagles weigh 10 to 20 pounds and have powerful talons as large as a grizzly bear claw, useful for capturing sloths and other animals.
Fed Ex Senior Manager Jose Antonio de Obaldia and Regional Director Jullieta Lasa, along with Tourism CEO Michael Singh, made it possible for the eagle to eventually reach his new home in Belize, Muela said.
FedEx put the bird on a flight to Guatemala City on the morning of 4 December and then transferred him to a private plane, courtesy of FedEx, in the afternoon. That is when the eagle's journey hit another snag: the kennel used to carry the eagle was too large to fit into the aircraft.
"I ended up having to carry Hope in my arms for two hours," said Muela, who was forced to improvise after learning that a larger plane could not be ready for several hours.
"Harpy Eagles are powerful birds and if they struggle, it can be very difficult to restrain them," Muela said. "Luckily, after I covered his head, the eagle remained very calm and we made it safely to our destination."
The Harpy Eagle was greeted at the Belize airport by local conservationists and FedEx representative Lyn Singh. The bird was then taken to The Belize Zoo to prepare for release into the rich and biodiverse forests in the Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area under the watchful eye of Programme for Belize.
On 11 December, the eagle boarded one more flight, this time with the Belize Defence Force Air Wing, to the release site accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Vinai Thummalapally and other government officials, cinematographers, and representatives of the zoo and Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Program. When the plane landed, the bird was welcomed by local officials and schoolchildren. An hour later, the eagle was at the final release site and the kennel door was opened.
"Hope was out in a flash," said Sharon Matola, coordinator of the restoration program in Belize. "He immediately flew up into a nearby tree. After seemingly getting his bearings for about 10 minutes, Hope flew off, leaving his very happy well-wishers far behind."
The eagle is outfitted with equipment that will allow researchers to track his movements by satellite. A five-year-old male, he is one of more than 40 Harpy Eagles bred in captivity by The Peregrine Fund in Panama and the 15th Harpy Eagle released to the wild in Belize.
For more information, read about The Peregrine Fund's Harpy Eagle Conservation and Research Project at: http://www.peregrinefund.org/conserve_category.asp?category=Harpy Eagle Conservation and Research
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