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Madagascar Serpent-Eagle Captured for First Time in 60 Years

The first capture and release of a Madagascar Serpent-Eagle (Eutriorchis astur) in 63 years was confirmed today by The Peregrine Fund. It was also the first time in history photographs of the eagle have been taken.

The first confirmed sighting occurred on 2 November 1993 on the edge of some of Madagascar's last remaining rainforest by Peregrine Fund biologists Russell Thorstrom, Victor Baba, and Barthelemy Damary. They had established a camp at a bird inventory site in northeastern Madagascar when Russell discovered the eagle not far from the camp. From his field notes following the first sighting, Russell Thorstrom states: 

"I walked approximately 60 meters up-slope from the camp site when I heard a three-note coua-like call. I proceeded in the direction of the vocalization and located a large raptor. The bird flew to another perch and I adjusted my viewing position. The raptor was a Madagascar Serpent-Eagle - I was 98 percent confident." 

Although Thorstrom and his colleagues saw this Serpent-Eagle several times over the next few days they were unable to photograph it during this trip. Returning to the area three weeks later with traps and radio gear, they discovered the forest was being destroyed by slash-and-burn farmers and the eagle was not found. 

Subsequently, on 14 January 1994, on the west side of the peninsula, Malagasy field biologists trained by The Peregrine Fund trapped a Madagascar Serpent-Eagle. Before it was released, a band was placed on the bird and careful measurements and photographs were taken. These photographs were used to confirm the identity of the bird. 

"Finding the Madagascar Serpent-Eagle is extremely exciting for us--we have been looking for it ever since we arrived in Madagascar in 1990," said Dr. Rick Watson, The Peregrine Fund's Project Director for Africa and Madgascar. "Having Malagasy field biologists trained by The Peregrine Fund take the first picture of the Serpent-Eagle is equally rewarding. We hope that this achievement will create tremendous interest and support among the people of Madagascar and demonstrate that Madagascar's flora and fauna are of international importance," concluded Watson.

Since the Madagascar Serpent-Eagle has rarely been seen in over 60 years and never before photographed, nothing is known about the behavior or biology of this secretive species. Under the leadership of bird of prey expert Russell Thorstrom, The Peregrine Fund has organized a study team which will carefully observe this individual during the next few months in an effort to learn as much as possible about its behavior. With this new information and better understanding, the biologists hope to find more Serpent-Eagles and begin work to ensure the species' survival.

The Peregrine Fund is a non-profit international conservation organization that emphasizes birds of prey for the conservation of nature. Best known for the recovery of the Peregrine Falcon, the organization is also involved in recovery efforts of a variety of other species including the California Condor, Harpy Eagle, Aplomado Falcon, Teita Falcon, Orange-breasted Falcon, the `Alala (Hawaiian Crow), and endangered Hawaiian forest birds and many others. The Peregrine Fund currently has projects in 10 countries worldwide. 

Madagascar is one of the world's top ten convservation priorities. Three of the worlds most endangerd birds of prey exist there. The Peregrine Fund's work in Madagascar began in 1990 where they currently have two projects. One project focuses on the conservation of the Madagascar Fish Eagle, a species in jeopardy with an estimated population of less than 100 pairs, and its wetland habitat. The second is aimed at protecting some of Madagascar's rainforest, habitat for the Madagascar Serpent-Eagle and Madagascar Red Owl--two species also close to extinction.

The Peregrine Fund cooperates with ANGAP (Association National pour le Gestion des Aires Protegees) and DEF (Direction des Eaux et Forets) as a partner with CARE and Wildlife Conservation Society in an integrated conservation and development project (ICDP) on Masoala Peninsula. The ICDP aims to create a new National Park to protect approximately 745,000 acres of forest including the island's last fragment of coastal rainforest. At the same time the project aims to provide sustainable alternatives to slash-and- burn agriculture to the local people to help relieve pressure on the fragile forest ecosystem.

The Peregrine Fund's project is funded by the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, Environment Now, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and United States Agency for International Development.

For more information, contact:

Erin Katzner

Director of Global Engagement

Main Phone:208-362-3716

Direct Phone:208-362-8277