Savannah Grace

Monkey-Eating Harpy Eagle

A slightly painful 3:30am rise to watch the sunrise over the rainforest left us exhausted. We only had a couple hours to rest after breakfast before our private guide, Jair, was knocking at our door.

Rainforest Expeditions

Because it is so remote and a hotspot for wildlife, it’s not uncommon for researchers, National Geographic and Discovery Channel to visit Rainforest Expeditions’ lodges along the Tambopata River.

The biggest draw is their Tambopata Research Centre which is another few hour boat ride upstream from the Refugio lodge, making it the furthest of the three lodges. I recommend watching the macaw video on the above link. TRC is situated a mere 500 metres from the world’s largest mineral clay lick. It’s a fabulous spot to witness swarms of macaws and other parrots gathering to eat the detoxifying clay which has minerals in it that are otherwise hard to find in the rainforest. Unfortunately, we would not be staying at that lodge or visiting the incredible clay lick but it’s a great excuse to go back.

 Peruvian Rainforest  Peruvian Rainforest

Instead we would be walking to Refugio’s local clay lick which was about an hour away on foot. Trekking down the dirt path, around and through the mud, Jair taught us all about the fauna and flora. He had boundless knowledge about everything, or was extremely good at sounding convincing. We spotted mushrooms, berries, flowers, ants, strange insect mounds, frogs, spiders, funguses, medicinal plants and herbs all over the forest floor.

 Peruvian Rainforest  Peruvian Rainforest  Peruvian Rainforest

Sweaty and muddy in our knee-high gumboots we finally reached the small hideout from which we could spy. We were initially disappointed by the seemingly deserted clay lick where animals are known to visit.

 Peruvian Rainforest - Savannah Grace and Kees

There was absolutely no life to be seen, until Jair eagerly waved us away from the clay lick. Around the corner in the bushes we met three researchers who were hiding in utter silence. Aside from the basic station, consisting of a small stool and large binoculars, you would never have known they were there. With fingers to their lips they signalled into the trees. There was one rather large eagle that they informed us was a baby harpy eagle, an extremely rare and nearly extinct bird. It sat high in the iron wood tree, 34 meteres up, the perfect position to hunt for its prey. Kees and I would never have understood the impact of what we were seeing, if it weren’t for their excited faces.

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Jair could hardly resist pushing us out of the way to take a look through the researchers high-tech binoculars himself and take pictures. They are so rare that people would pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars to see what we were looking at.

 Peruvian Rainforest - Harpy Eagle

The harpy eagle is one of the top five big predators in the Peruvian Rainforest. I almost didn’t believe them until they told me the even more unbelievable truth that this type of eagle hunts and eats MONKEYS! Having stood and watched this baby eagle grow for weeks already, the researchers told us that they only hunt the bigger monkeys in the rainforest, they don’t even bother eating the small ones because there’s not enough meat on them. The sudden vision of that beautiful white eagle flying through the rainforest with a monkey in its claws reminded me why I love traveling. No matter how long or how far you travel, there are ALWAYS surprises.

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This predator, that just moments ago I didn’t know existed, was amazing me. Sharing the top of the food chain with some of the biggest predators in the world, the jaguar ruling the forest floor, the anaconda dominating the swamps and rivers, the harpy eagle is the king of the rainforest’s canopy! They will pick out large monkeys, birds, sloths from the trees and even (according to the Rainforest Expeditions website) take down a brocket deer!!! Though there’s never been a report of this happening, I would be hanging on tightly to my child if one was flying above me.

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I was extremely awed and fascinated by the researchers having a job I would describe as excitingly boring. We spent a lot of time with them admiring the harpy eagle and borrowing their super professional binoculars. I couldn’t help but think about their stiff necks, cranking their heads back day on end to record every move of that baby eagle. The reality is that they stand there sweating and swatting bugs for hours and hours on end staring at a single creature for MONTHS, jotting down notes every single time it moves. Despite that, the idea of being so disconnected from the buzz of city life is admirable. I imagine so many kids dreaming of spending months and months lost in the rainforest, connecting with nature on such an intimate level.

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On our walk back we stopped to lure a giant black tarantula out of its hole with a stick. It was so big it easily put my tiny pet tarantula to shame. We were both amazed by Jair’s tarantula skills when he successfully lured the eight-legged beast from its hole three times. The secret, Jair told us, was biting the end of the stick and making it wet with saliva to trick the spider into thinking it’s an insect. Seeing that gorgeous animal in its natural habitat instantly became a highlight of our trip. But I dare not mention that to the researchers or they’d consider my priorities amateur and kick me out of the rainforest. That would be the equivalent of a tourist in Canada saying a squirrel was more impressive than a cougar or moose.

 Peruvian Rainforest  Peruvian Rainforest

After trudging more than three hours through the tunnel of trees and overwhelming our senses, we pounced on the cool drinks and snacks waiting for us at the steps of the lodge when we returned. I was falling more and more in love with the place every second.

 Peruvian Rainforest bug bites, Peruvian Rainforest

After our first full day, Kees was absolutely, shockingly covered in bug bites. People recoiled and gasped in shock at sight of him and it reminded me of our time overlanding through Africa and all the strange things we picked up there. I was on 24/7 surveillance duty because Kees loves ripping his bites open until he’s dripping with blood. Luckily, whenever he is around the bugs are completely uninterested in me. Oh, and I was smart enough to use citronella, the natural insecticide that was provided in our room.

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I was sad to only have a short taste of the Refugio lodge before having to pack up and leave. The next morning we woke early to do another walk before taking the canoe an hour down river to Posada Amazonas Lodge. There was a mix of sadness having to leave Refugio and excitement getting to experience a new place.


Watch 2:04-2:13 for footage of baby harpy eagle and 3:07-3:16 for tarantula footage or enjoy the entire 3:45 minutes video of our 5 days in the Tambopata Rainforest in Peru.  

8 replies »

  1. What a wonderful story! didn’t get to these those eagles during my stay in the Amazon..but to be quite fair we saw a tapir, jaguar and pink i guess that makes up for it 😛

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