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State bird gets its flight to freedom

Some captive Western Tragopans will experience their flight to freedom in the hills of Himachal Pradesh next year, when the wild life wing releases them back home in nature.

india Updated: Nov 06, 2010 19:22 IST
Archana Phull

Some captive Western Tragopans will experience their flight to freedom in the hills of Himachal Pradesh next year, when the wild life wing releases them back home in nature.

The Western Tragopan, referred to as Jujurana, happens to be the state bird of Himachal Pradesh.

The species is highly endangered, with its population restricted to over 300 in the state as per a survey.

Its presently being bred in captivity in Sarahan, 160 kilometres North East of Shimla for past eight years.

"How long can we hold back the birds in captivity? We have to introduce them back to their natural habitat. We are looking for the release locations for the bird in different parts of the state. The re-introduction sites would depend on historical records, and new possibilities with similar environs.

"Certain areas above 6000-7000 feet in Chamba, Shimla and Mandi districts have so far been found fit for the Western Tragopan", A.K.Gulati, Chief Wild Life Warden, Himachal Pradesh, told Hindustan Times.

Gulati said the ultimate goal is to see these birds grow in numbers naturally.

"We'll keep replacing the parent stock present in the aviary, and will continue with the captive breeding programme as such. The survival of birds released in nature will depend on various factors. We'll have to study it initially to see the success," he said.

The birds would be released in nature a group of six or seven in the first attempt.

Nineteen birds are presently living captive in a very small pheasantry in Sarahan.

The pheasantry was hit by a bacterial infection earlier this year, that had put the brakes on the breeding programme. The count of the birds had drastically dropped from 23 to 19, with three birds dying of infection, and of natural causes.

Almost all the Western Tragopans were infected with E. coli bacteria. The wild life doctors, however, managed to control the mass mortality of the birds. The breeding process had to be slowed down by using "physiological techniques". The birds normally breed from May to July when the days are longer.

"The major problem was due to the very small enclosures, which were damp as well. We will be shifting the Western Tragopans to a bigger aviary in Sarahan by the end of this year. Its likely to check infection to a great extent and we can go ahead with breeding programme."

"We are taking extra caution on foodstuff for the birds", said the Chief Wild Life Warden.

The new aviary seeks to provide the environs of a natural habitat to the birds. Each enclosure in it measures 400 square metres. The breeding project for Western Tragopan, started in 2002, under the guidance of John Corder of the World Pheasants Association. It had got a boost in 2005 when a bird was bred in captivity for the first time in the world.

In 2007, 2008 and 2009, nine, four and two chicks were bred respectively. Though the females lay many eggs, only a few are fertile.

The western tragopan belongs to the family Phasianidae, which also includes the peafowl and the red jungle fowl. It is the least studied bird in the world.

Being a shy bird, it is rarely sighted in nature and is found at an altitude of 2,000 to 3,600 metres in the temperate forests of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

The bird is hunted for its brilliant feathers.

GPS collars on winged visitors on the anvil

The wild life wing, which is presently experimenting with radio collar (GPRS) on a leopard moving in the jungles around Shimla, may go in a similar way to watch the movement of winged visitors at Pong Dam in Kangra district every winter.

" Thousands of birds of different species come to Pong dam in winters from different parts of the world . We will pick up certain rare species, and track their movement back home by putting GPS (Global Positioning System) collars under their wings. This will help us study their movement pattern and behaviour anywhere in the world,'' the Chief Wild Life Warden said.

He said the cost and other factors for the project will be worked out shortly.