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Harpy Diaries: Elpis and the Anaconda

Adela Indriago

As a fascinated newcomer to this part of the Amazon jungle, I'd like to tell you about my experience here at Rainforest Expeditions' Refugio Amazonas lodge. While I knew I'd discover spectacular wildlife, I never expected to encounter two of the jungle's greatest predators together: the Harpy Eagle and the Green Anaconda!

Since my first day on the Wired Amazon research team, my hours have been filled with surprises and new experiences. The Tambopata jungle of Southeastern Peru hosts a great diversity of landscapes, ecosystems and organisms, giving me the opportunity to easily spot scores of plants and animals. 

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Anaconda photo by Adela Indriago.

In this job, no two days are the same, so it's hard to fall into monotony. But even within this stimulating environment, one day, something truly stood out: an event that I will remember for the rest of my life.

As I walked through the jungle near the Mammal Clay Lick (Colpa), an area that attracts animals due to its nutrient-rich clay, I came across a Green Anaconda resting on the water. The snake had snatched its prey nearby, and was digesting it! When I found it there, the first thing that came to my mind was, “this beauty deserves a picture." Excited with the incredible animal, I published the picture on social media, so everyone could marvel at it like I did.  

Because of my social media posts, some well-known National Geographic Magazine photographers came here as well — looking for wild Green Anacondas as part of a photographic and research project. Photographers Paul Rosolie and Trevor Frost had come to the lodge in search of the Anaconda, which was already digesting an apparent Agouti (according to the shape and size of the lump in the snake's belly).

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But amazingly, the Anaconda wasn't the only great predator lurking in the forest. Out of nowhere, Elpis, our beloved one-year-old Harpy Eagle chick appeared! Just as we approached the Anaconda with a group of guests, Elpis showed up, perching a few meters above our heads. He stayed there, looking at us and the Anaconda with intrigue for at least an hour! Elpis observed it all with his graceful head movements, used by the eagles to calculate the distance of their target and the speed they must use to catch it.

I don’t know who was more surprised: Elpis at seeing the Anaconda, or us at the whole spectacular scene! We stared in awe at the canopy predator just above our heads, and the predatory strangler, the Anaconda, just beyond from our feet. The double predator sighting couldn’t have been more surprising.

Famous Elpis, of course, is the star of our HarpyCam project. With each video of Elpis, I've been fascinated to watch how fast he's grown and developed. As I watched him nearly "face to face," I could appreciate how his contour feathers are changing and getting darker. While a month ago, Elpis only had three standing crest feathers and it looked rather disheveled, now the feathers are nearly grown!  With his almost-complete crest and his strong, curious gaze, Elpis is starting to look like a true predator of the canopy.

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Harpy Eagle photo by Adela Indriago.

On June 22, Elpis turned one year old. Normally the Harpy chicks spend up to two years close to their nests. After eight months, they’re almost fully grown, and able to kill prey close to their own weight. So why do Elpis's parents, Kee Wai and Bahuaja, keep bringing him prey to eat? Because of his lack of practice and experience hunting on his own.

We haven't noticed Elpis hunting prey on his own yet. In HarpyCam videos, we can see Bahuaja delivering prey to Elpis, often receiving an extremely aggressive display from the chick. Sometimes, we even see Dad jumping or leaving the nest to evade Elpis's attacks! Elpis learned this behavior from Kee Wai during his's Dad prey deliveries. While it may seem hostile, this aggressive instinct will lead Elpis to try hunting for himself.

New videos of the World's First Harpy Eagle Cam are coming soon!! Stay tuned

The day after this remarkable double predator sighting, the National Geographic photographers Trevor and Paul visited the lodge, only to find that the Anaconda was gone. Normally, Anacondas can’t move so far when they have an entire meal in their stomachs...

Do you think Elpis took the Anaconda as prey? Give us your opinion!

And if you want to see Elpis's development from the beginning, follow us on our YouTube channel!

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