Why is the harpy eagle almost threatened

Date: Sunday, October 05, 2008 12:20 PM

General description:

The harpy is a very impressive bird: it has a wingspan of 190 to 240 cm, a length of 80 to 100 cm and a weight of 4 to 9 kg, whereby the females are on average significantly larger and almost a third heavier than the males . The harpy's most striking characteristic is undoubtedly its broad head of feathers on the back of its head. When the big eagle is relaxed, these decorative feathers lie flat against the neck. However, if the harpy is excited, for example when it perceives a possible victim or danger, it "rests" its feathers and thereby takes on a threatening, grim appearance for the human observer.


In Greek mythology, the harpies were bird-like beings - demons of the storm with a woman's head and bird of prey body. A harpy carrying a monkey through the air in its grasping feet is an impressive sight, and this may have prompted the ornithologists of the 18th century to give the giant bird of prey the name of those once terrifying demons.


It is estimated that every pair of harpies needs an area of ​​100 to 200 square kilometers of undisturbed tropical forest to ensure their food all year round. This means that the population density of the species is inherently very low. Bearing this in mind, the harpy is much rarer today than it once was. A recent survey of the great eagle population has clearly shown that there have been very few sightings of harpies in recent times. For this reason, the harpy eagle is to be included in the next “Red Book of Endangered Birds in America”, which will be published by the International Council for Birds Protection (ICBP).

There are several reasons that led to the harpy's decline. Hunting is certainly an important damaging factor. Large birds of prey are coveted trophies for many people, and this has put great hunting pressure on the harpy eagle. The mighty bird is also often gunned down because many people see it as a threat to their children. Hunting prey is also a danger that should not be underestimated. If monkeys and sloths are rare in an area, the harpy can no longer feed itself adequately and has to leave the place in question.

The greatest threat to the continued existence of the harpy eagle is undoubtedly the extensive destruction of its habitat. The slash and burn of the Latin American forests is an ecological catastrophe that has already led to the extermination of countless animal and plant species and the habitat and thus the chances of survival of the remaining species, so does the harpy, continually diminished.

Assuming that a long-term viable raptor population must consist of at least 250 pairs, a minimum area of ​​37,500 square kilometers of undisturbed rainforest would be necessary to ensure the continued existence of the harpy eagle. However, the studies carried out so far have shown that the harpy eagle avoids overlapping its territories with those of its closest food competitor, the strangler's eagle. Therefore, a much larger area is probably required. Roughly estimated, the minimum forest area required to maintain a healthy harpy population should be around 60,000 square kilometers. This corresponds to roughly a third of the land area of ​​Guyana - but also the area that was forever destroyed in the Amazon basin in 1988 alone ...

Guyana can undoubtedly make an important contribution to the survival of the harpy eagle by protecting as large parts of its primeval forests as possible, because the species seems to be even more common here than in other parts of Latin America. Nevertheless, the unique eagle will only succeed in surviving if the enormous extent of forest destruction can also be reduced in the other areas of its distribution area and a network of large-scale forest protection areas can be set up. However, this requires an early rethink on the part of some Latin American governments as well as massive support on the part of the industrialized nations. Until then, the future of the harpy does not look bright.