Hello and welcome to this weeks installment of ‘Vanishing Birds’, where we take a look at some spiffin’ foreign bird species to see how they are doing compared to the good old days. This week we will be looking to the exciting, tropical lands of India and south-east Asia; which you will find in pages 32 – 37 of your copy of ‘The Worlds Vanishing Birds’ (1972). Now pay attention as we shall be covering five different species today, including an ibis, pheasants and a Monal – what is a Monal I hear you say? Well stay tuned to find out later on in the post.

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Western Tragopan – This is a remarkable looking bird, a member of the pheasant family, it resides in coniferous and deciduous temperate forests along the Himalayas living at altitudes up to 3,600 metres. The curious name comes from the Greek ‘Trago’ meaning goat and ‘pan’ after the horned god, due to the bird bearing fleshy blue horns on its head. The textbook states that the bird is in danger of extinction because of its restricted range, habitat destruction and trapping by locals. Modern sources state that the Tragopan is classified as ‘vulnerable’ with around 5000 individuals, yet there is concern that the population is much lower than this and as such it may soon be moved into the ‘endangered’ category. This bird does not respond well to any human disturbance and as such some of the main threats to the species include forest grazing, woodland foraging and farming by local people. Logging, agriculture and hydroelectric developments are also fragmenting and reducing its habitat – on top of which it is hunted for its beautiful feathers.

Sclater’s Monal – (main picture) A weird name for a weird bird, this is essentially a large pheasant but with psychedelic colouration and a turkey-like body – it resides in rhododendron forests in the eastern Himalayas of Tibet, Burma and India. The textbook does not give a lot of information on its status except that hunting for its plumage and flesh (apparently delicious) has driven it near to extinction. Today it is estimated to have a population of between 2,500 – 10,000 individuals, which is declining at a moderate rate and thus listed as ‘vulnerable’. The single largest threat today is hunting for food, though it is also hunted for its feathers locally and logging is gradually fragmenting its habitat.

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Mikado Pheasant – A proper pheasant now with stunning blue and white plumage, this species’ range is restricted to the mountains of Taiwan where it is endemic and regarded unofficially as a national bird. The textbook claims that hunting was its main threat in 1972 and also that a pheasant trust had been breeding a captive population. While not much seems to have come from the captive breeding project the majority of the population seems safe within the Yushan national park, though apparently hunting and habitat degradation are still problems outside of protected areas. With a total population between 10 – 20,000 individuals, in decline, it is currently on the list of ‘near threatened’ species. One to keep an eye on.

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Great Indian Bustard – A magnificent bird this; huge, attractively plumaged, interesting behaviour, polygamous and in dire trouble. When the textbook was published this bird was classed as ‘Threatened’ and reported to be declining due to local hunting – today it is ‘critically endangered’ with a 90% range reduction to small areas of semi-arid grassland in central and western India. The total world population is around 250 mature individuals with low genetic diversity. Hunting is still a threat, particularly in Pakistan, but is reduced from some decades ago – the real problem is habitat loss, largely because of agricultural intensification, infrastructure development, mining, poor management and lack of community support. Protected areas have been set up and conservation management is attempting to restore habitat – perhaps most importantly community initiatives and education is underway to get the local people on-side.

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Giant Ibis – Over 1 metre long, a metre high and weighing 4.2 kilograms this bird is deserving of its title. The textbook is rather optimistic, stating that the bird is found throughout Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and southern Vietnam and that ‘there has not been any recent decline in numbers. Indeed it is likely that the species is not so rare as has been generally supposed.’ Unfortunately the Giant Ibis today is critically endangered with a population of just 290 individuals (including juveniles) restricted to northern Cambodia. Threats to this bird include hunting, egg collecting, wetland drainage, deforestation, sensitivity to human disturbance, a greatly increasing human population, expansive agriculture, road construction, hydroelectric dams etc. Conservationists are currently working with local people to reduce hunting and protect nests and an Ibis protection group is being set up.

Is it just me or did the word ‘hunting’ crop up a lot in this post?

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