Have You Heard of the Harpy Eagle?

The harpy eagle, Harpia harpyja, is the national bird of Panama. Standing three feet tall and with a seven-foot wingspan, this top predator is the undisputed master of the forest canopy. Despite their size, harpy eagles can impressively wind their way through the trees to silently snatch monkeys and sloths from the branches. Of course, not just any predator can catch such large prey–the harpy eagle is the strongest bird of prey in the world!


Sadly, harpy eagles are now absent from much of their historical range due to widespread deforestation. And they are not alone: jaguars, tapirs, spider monkeys, and more are experiencing significant population declines in Central America.

Habitat loss is widely considered to be the greatest threat to species worldwide.

Habitat loss in Panama has especially strong consequences because of its incredible biodiversity. <ore than 10,000 species of plants, 250 species of mammals, 200 species of amphibians and 1,000 species of birds can be found in Panama, which is only about the size of North Carolina. Yet half of Panama’s forest cover has already been lost, leaving only three of Panama’s 10 provinces with good forest coverage and endangering at least 6% of its wildlife species.

Harpy Eagle ©vil.sandi on Flickr

©vil.sandi on Flickr

Harpy Eagle, Harpia harpyja

Every April 10th

Panama celebrates Harpy Eagle Day on the anniversary of its declaration as the national bird

Causes of Habitat Loss

It may surprise you to hear that those destroying the forest don’t hate nature. In developing countries like Panama, the exploitation of natural resources is seen as a necessary source of income. Even individuals who do not wish to harm the environment may be pushed towards deforestation when other economic opportunities are lacking.


Our founder, Guido Berguido, encountered this issue when buying a piece of land that would eventually become a private nature reserve managed by ADOPTA. After learning that a rare cloud forest habitat was being threatened, he spoke with the landowner to encourage protecting the area. After a long discussion where Guido explained about the unique plants and animals in the area, and why the forest shouldn’t be cut down, the basic problem became clear.

“I understand what you’re telling me about the unique animals that are living in this forest,” the landowner replied, “but I am a farmer. I make my money by clearing the forest and raising cattle. How am I supposed to feed my family if I can’t use the forest?”

Degredation of Protected Lands

Impressively, more than 20% of Panama is already protected in national parks and other reserves, reflecting the country’s growing dedication to improving its environment. Simply setting this land aside may not be enough to save the species living there, however, as even protected areas are experiencing habitat degredation. As habitats become increasingly fragmented, they become susceptible to a number of problems:

  • Exotic Species
  • Once exotic plants such as wild sugar cane, Saccharum spontaneum, invade parks and reserves, they crowd out native vegetation and reduce habitat quality.

  • Pollution
  • In coastal areas, inadequate waste management is damaging Panama’s beaches and coral reefs. Meanwhile, inland areas are threatened by runoff of agricultural chemicals and sewage.

  • Disease
  • Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which lethally infects amphibians worldwide, has already led to an estimated 70% decline in amphibian populations in Central America, with some species already having gone extinct.

How We’re Helping

ADOPTA takes an active role in protecting at-risk ecosystems. We own and manage the Cerro Chucantí private nature reserve, which contains a rare, isolated cloud forest habitat that was almost lost forever to logging and agriculture. Further research has shown that ADOPTA’s purchase of this land has saved a multitude of rare and unique species, including at least 14 that were previously unknown to science!


We also partner with other organizations to assist with a multitude of restoration activities combating habitat degredation. Whether picking up garbage along the coast or planting trees in national parks, ADOPTA’s volunteers are helping to protect habitat for the future as well as the present.

Cerro Chucantí

Discover a secret world hidden in the cloud-covered mountains of Panama’s remote Darién region where a rare ecosystem nearly disappeared forever.


Panama loses about 1% of its old-growth forests every year. We’re joining the Alliance for a Million Hectares to reverse this trend and bring back vital habitat.