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The BBVA Foundation and Fundación de Amigos del Águila Imperial narrate the recovery of the Spanish imperial eagle in a book illustrated with never-before-published photographic images

12/12/2012

The recent history of the Spanish imperial eagle is an example of a successful conservation strategy in which private initiative has played a vital part. This is the positive message conveyed by biologist Luis Mariano González in El águila imperial ibérica. El resurgir de una especie amenazada, published by Fundación Amigos del Águila Imperial, Lince Ibérico y Espacios Naturales Protegidos jointly with the BBVA Foundation.

González’s text is interspersed with over 130 photographs by Andoni Canela,a regular contributor to leading national and international publications. In two years of field work, Canela has captured superb, never-before-published images of the Spanish imperial eagle in its daily activities, bathing for instance, and in rare situations, like an attack on a fox.

González was actively involved in developing official strategies for the protection of this unique raptor through recovery programs and endangered species regulations, and, on balance, is positive about the outcome.

Presenting the book at a press conference, Rafael Pardo, Director of the BBVA Foundation, placed it in the context of the Foundation’s work in favor of biodiversity conservation and the transfer of scientific knowledge.

The book opens with a foreword from Eduardo de Juana, the President of SEO/BirdLife, who refers both to Luis Mariano González’ scientific authority and his thoroughgoing knowledge of the species, which, he says, make this a practical guide “full of wise recommendations for the species’ management and conservation.”

The author indeed devotes a chapter to proposing new lines of action to safeguard and build on the progress made in recovering and conserving the imperial eagle.

From vermin to protected species

The book also traces the Spanish imperial eagle’s historic journey from the negative associations common to all predator species, which led it to be popularly considered vermin and even officially classed as such, to its present-day image as an emblematic species deserving of protection.

After the Spanish Civil War, the authorities sought to favor prey species by creating the Provincial Boards for the Extinction of Harmful Species and Protection of Game, better known as the Vermin Extinction Boards. Among their functions was to promote and reward the elimination of predators, the Spanish imperial eagle among them.

The subsequent transformation of social perceptions went through various stages, according to González, and was driven in no small measure by private initiative.

Perhaps the biggest milestone came in 1964, when Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente addressed the International Conference on Birds of Prey organized by the International Council for the Protection of Birds, now BirdLife International. His plea resulted in an official recommendation which took on board most of his arguments and was largely responsible for Spain giving the imperial eagle temporary protection status that same year, transformed into permanent in 1973.

From this point onwards, the species could rely for its recovery not only on this official change of heart but also on the indispensable support of the owners of the estates harboring 80% of the breeding population, as well as a majority of the eagle’s juvenile dispersal zones.

Unpublished images

The two years that Andoni Canela spent tracking the bird explain why the photographs are such a major part of El águila imperial ibérica. El resurgir de una especie amenazada. “It turned out to be a lengthy process. First in getting to know the places where the Spanish imperial eagle can be found (Doñana, Sierra Morena, Montes de Toledo, Sierra de San Pedro, Quintos de Mora, Guadarrama…) and choosing the best sites to work from. Then, in observing its daily habits and waiting for the moment, above all waiting.”

The key to capturing these images was for the photographer to blend in completely with the background: “Many of the photographs were taken from hillside hide-outs covered in vegetation so the eagles couldn’t spot me.”

As well as the photographs, most of them hitherto unpublished, the large-format book contains a number of original drawings. It can be acquired for a price of 21 euros via the BBVA Foundation website, in Spanish bookstores, and through distributor Marcial Pons.

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