In Mexico, the golden eagle, Aquila chrysaetos canadensis, is the national symbol, emblazoned on the flag and the official seal, but it is probably more evident as a symbol than it is in real life: only about 100 couples have been estimated to remain.
Prehispanic cultures held the eagle in high esteem, considering it as a celestial symbol and the incarnation of fire and the sun.
The Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlán was built according to instructions by the god Huitzilopoztli, that the Aztecs settle in a place where an eagle would be seen battling a snake.
The national identity of the Mexican nation became closely linked with the Mexica legend, and the image of an eagle on a nopal cactus clasping a serpent in its beak and claws has appeared in one form or another as the official seal through the centuries.
Originally distributed over half of the current national territory, the águila real was included on the endangered species list in 1994, its habitat having been lost to population growth, mining activities, accidental poisoning and illegal hunting.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the Environment Secretariat (Semarnat) created a conservation strategy, and by 2009 a collaborative effort was set in motion to increase the number of eagles in the wild and to raise awareness among the population.
But today, barely 50 nests have been accounted for in the wild, while 95 specimens are held in captivity.
In a recent event, Semarnat officials turned over four golden eagles to the Defense Secretariat (Sedena) after the birds had been illegally removed from their habitat and later seized by environmental officials.
During the event, Semarnat chief Rafael Pacchiano said Mexico is not prepared to lose its national symbol. He added that with the collaboration of Sedena and society at large not only will golden eagles be saved, but many other endangered species as well.
After the event, Pacchiano gave representatives of the indigenous Huichol people 223 eagle feathers, taken from birds raised in captivity.
The Huicholes have traditionally used the feathers in their religious and cultural festivities but since the birds are now endangered they have pledged to support their conservation by refraining from hunting and capturing them.