Repository logo

Building a conservation strategy for the harpy eagle in the Amazon Forest.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Apex predators are threatened worldwide and are considered a priority in the conservation biology agenda. Their decline is associated with habitat loss and degradation, and persecution arising from perceived and actual conflict with humans. The trophic cascades emerging from the loss of apex predators can disrupt the regulation of prey populations, seed dispersal, tree composition and nutrient cycles derived from carcass deposition, with widespread consequences for biodiversity. The harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) is the Earth's largest eagle and is considered a flagship species for Amazon Forest conservation. Harpy eagles are threatened by poaching and by loss and degradation of habitat. This thesis is comprised of nine chapters—being seven of them data chapters—related to harpy eagle biology and conservation. Chapters 1 and 9 are respectively an introduction and a synthesis about the subjects I approached. In Chapter 2, I created a predictive model of the species range aimed at understanding the current distribution, the contraction of the species distribution compared with the original range, and sites that currently have notable potential for reintroduction of harpy eagles. In Chapter 3, I analyse the effects of environmental parameters such as moonlight and temperature on prey selection probability. In Chapter 4, I aimed to establish the factors that drive the killing of harpy eagles by local people, including the relation between livestock predation and harpy killing. Chapter 5, I explore the nesting, timing and rates of visitation to nests by parent and fledged eagles as it relates to the viability of harpy nests as ecotourism attractions. In Chapter 6, I conducted a meta-analysis that synthesises data on nest tree selection by harpy eagles with the tree species preferences by loggers. In Chapter 7, I test the hypothesis that harpy eagles are agents of accumulation of nutrients, by concentrating decaying remains of prey items at nest sites over decades, thereby biomagnifying soil and foliage nutrient profiles. In Chapter 8, I describe rates of prey delivery by harpy eagles to their nests, and the composition of this prey, to understand the effects of forest loss on harpy eagle feeding ecology. This multi-faceted set of topics were combined in the field with a new, responsible ecotourism strategy focused on harpy eagles. Subsequently, I hope to build an evidence-based, economically-viable conservation strategy for the largest eagle on Earth, as well as to understand their keystone function of harpy eagles in Neotropical forest ecosystems.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.