High above the open landscapes of Eurasia, the eastern imperial eagle soars. With a two-metre wingspan, this impressive raptor migrates thousands of miles each year, breeding in Eastern Europe in early summer and heading south to warmer climates in winter. Sadly though, this journey has become a perilous endeavour, with poaching and electrocution by power lines representing major threats to the species.
Despite offering important habitat for eastern imperial eagles, Georgia is now home to only around 14 breeding pairs. A significant breeding location for the species, the Georgian steppes and floodplain forests are now degraded due to overgrazing and limited natural flooding, resulting in a lack of suitable nesting sites. Until 2015, however, other threats were poorly understood.
That year, the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP), a partnership between Fauna & Flora International (FFI), BirdLife International and WCS, awarded a Future Conservationist Award to Natia Javakhishvili, a young conservationist from Georgia who was motivated to conserve the country’s resident and visiting eastern imperial eagles. At the time, Natia was working for the Society for Nature Conservation (SABUKO) in Georgia, having started volunteering with the organisation the previous year. With CLP’s backing, Natia led a team in identifying and addressing threats to the eagles using satellite telemetry and GPS loggers to track the life cycles of juveniles.
The results of the study were shocking, showing that 80% of juveniles tagged over three years had been killed by poaching, nest destruction or electrocution. Having identified these threats, Natia then spearheaded a major campaign to increase public awareness, combat poaching and hold electricity and fuel extraction companies in Georgia accountable for destroying eagle nests. In 2017, Natia and her team won a landmark case against an electricity provider who had been found destroying active nests and removing safe nesting pylons. The company was fined and ordered to fund the construction of artificial nests to replace those that had been lost.