A project by Pronatura Noroeste and CEMEX is discovering crucial information for the conservation of Mexico’s national bird, including five new breeding territories near a CEMEX quarry in Sonora.
“Fear coupled with an adrenaline rush. Because if you make a mistake, the Golden Eagle can maim you.”
This was how Javier Cruz, Field Technician at Pronatura Noroeste, described the experience of fitting a radio transmitter to a Golden Eagle, in the remote biodiverse Sonoran Desert in northwest Mexico where CEMEX’s Cerrito Blanco Quarry is located. The achievement was especially rewarding given that it was years in the making.
In 2007, CEMEX entered into a global alliance with BirdLife International to work with their local partners on conservation projects in the areas where we operate. As a result, in 2012 experts from Pronatura Noroeste worked with CEMEX to undertake field surveys in the CEMEX Cerrito Blanco quarry in northwest Mexico for birds, mammals, plants, reptiles and amphibians, assessing the potential impact of human activities in the area. This Biodiversity Action Plan also led to a special project to increase scientific knowledge of the emblematic Golden Eagle, Mexico´s national bird.
The Golden Eagle is known as the Aguila Real, or royal eagle, in Spanish, befitting its status as the national bird and its place of honor on the Mexican flag, but today it is in need of conservation in that same country. Despite a stable population trend when averaged out globally, the Golden Eagle is threatened in Mexico, having been eliminated from most of its original range. In an effort to understand this trend, Pronatura Noroeste and CEMEX studied the abundance and distribution of Golden Eagles and organized a national workshop to uncover information, but it quickly became clear that these birds are surprisingly misunderstood at the local and national level.
“This is a very cautious bird,” explained Pronatura Noroeste Field Technician Francelia Torres. “To such a degree that they are even overlooked by the locals.”
With surveys revealing at least two pairs of Golden Eagles were nesting not far from main quarrying operations, CEMEX and Pronatura Noroeste’s project provided a unique opportunity that was not to be missed. Working with Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP), the team scaled cliffs and camped in the mountains to locate the nests in the hopes of tagging juvenile birds with radio-transmitters that would collect data to help understand the birds’ range and dispersal. Some hours before sunrise, during a dark night lit up by lightning strikes, this goal was finally achieved.
“It was a unique experience,” said Cruz. “And we never thought that it would yield so much information, from the daily movements, where they perch, where they fly to and above all, where they sleep.”
The project has recovered incredible data in this first phase, giving real insight into the life of the majestic bird. The transmitter-backed eagles have produced maps of their movements and now a picture is emerging of their post-natal dispersal. The researchers believe that over-grazing of native flora by cattle ranching is a factor in the Golden Eagle’s extirpation, as it likely inhibits the abundance of available prey. The area is proving to be very important for the conservation of the Golden Eagle in Mexico: in 2016, five previously unknown breeding territories have been confirmed in Sonora.
As a top predator with an impressive wingspan of over two meters, the Golden Eagle relies on abundant prey, which is why the next phases of the project include restoration of their habitat. Other planned actions include outreach work to prevent the persecution of Golden Eagles by poachers as well as constructive engagement with local landowners to implement changes in cattle ranching that would benefit the whole ecosystem.
Pronatura Noroeste and CEMEX hope to restore local Sonoran pride in the Golden Eagle, as the ongoing project uncovers more conservation secrets.
“The alliance has been very valuable because we share a common vision of achieving environmentally-sustainable development,” according to Martha Laura Argüelles Corral, CEMEX Corporate Social Responsibility Advisor at CEMEX’s Yaqui plant. “We look forward to continuing to work together to contribute to the biodiversity management of Cerrito Blanco.”
CEMEX is a global building materials company that provides high quality products and reliable service to customers and communities in more than 50 countries. Celebrating its 110th anniversary, CEMEX has a rich history of improving the well-being of those it serves through innovative building solutions, efficiency advancements, and efforts to promote a sustainable future.