After 12 years, western tragopans to fly back into the wild

Published on Jul 13, 2019 10:09 AM IST

Two pairs of the western tragopan, fitted with high-frequency radio collars, will be released at Daranghati wildlife sanctuary from the nearby pheasantry in Sarahan, 160 km from Shimla, by the year-end.

Tragopan, locally known as Jujurana, is also the national bird of Nepal. The Himachal Pradesh government declared it the state bird in 2007.(HTPhoto)
Tragopan, locally known as Jujurana, is also the national bird of Nepal. The Himachal Pradesh government declared it the state bird in 2007.(HTPhoto)
By, Shimla

Twelve years after launching a conservation programme to breed the western tragopan, Himachal Pradesh’s state bird, the wildlife wing has met success and will be releasing four pheasants from captivity into their natural habitat.

Two pairs of the western tragopan, fitted with high-frequency radio collars, will be released at Daranghati wildlife sanctuary from the nearby pheasantry in Sarahan, 160 km from Shimla, by the year-end.

This was decided at a recent wing of the state forest department’s wildlife wing.

The radio collars will help conservationists study and monitor the birds after their release from the lone breeding centre for the western tragopan, which is found in the northwest Himalayas, including Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand besides Himachal Pradesh. The species inhabits the high-altitude temperate forests at elevations between 2,400 and 3,200 metres.

“This is for the first time that the western tragopan bred successfully in the wildlife department’s pheasantry will be released into the wild,” says Savita, the principal chief conservator of the forest wildlife department.

PROJECT COST

Wildlife experts attribute the fall in numbers of tragopans to habitat degradation, hunting and extensive grazing of the forest by livestock.

“Himachal Pradesh is an important range-state for western tragopans, where it is distributed in sizeable populations in all three catchment areas of the Beas, Sutlej and Ravi,” says chief conservator, wildlife (south), Sushil Kapta.

The bird, locally known as Jujurana, is also the national bird of Nepal. The Himachal Pradesh government declared it the state bird in 2007.

Western tragopan belongs to the family phasianidae, which includes peafowl and red jungle fowl.

In 2003-04, the Central Zoo Authority approved the conservation project with an outlay of Rs 493.9 lakh. The CZA contributed Rs 364.95 lakh, while the state forest department’s share was of Rs 128.95 lakh.

Till 2007, the pheasantry was a rescue and rehabilitation centre for wild birds. That year, the CZA included the western tragopan in its priority list of species identified for conservation breeding. Consequently, the Sarahan pheasantry was designated as coordinating zoo for the conservation.

SETBACKS AND SUCCESS

The first breeding of the bird in captivity was reported in 1993 from a pair of wild rescued birds at Sarahan. In the years that followed, the breeding attempts were met with sporadic success. There were eight birds when the pheasantry started in 2007 and the numbers have now grown to 38.

The wildlife department had consulted a bird conservationist in the United Kingdom and a member of the World Pheasant Association, John Corder, before starting the conservation project.

“It’s after a lot of struggle that the western tragopan project has attained success. With no prior experience, it was a challenge. 2017 was a good breeding season for the centre. Eleven chicks were born that year, seven were naturally born and four in an incubator,” says wildlife wing zoologist Lakshminarasimha Ranganathan, who also suggested changes in the aviaries. The wildlife team installed close circuit cameras to track the nesting females. “The pheasantry uses incubators to hatch eggs abandoned by roosting females,” he says.

The conservation efforts suffered a setback in 2010 when three adult birds died within a month. Veterinarians and ornithologists found the outbreak of the E coli bacteria as the main cause of death. The infection affected the organs of nine surviving pairs and adversely impacted their reproductive system. Breeding was again impacted in 2015. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) blamed the transfer of trained staff. Last year, however, nine chicks hatched at the centre.

The government now plans to develop the pheasantry into a centre of excellence for the western tragopan.

Bird Life International, a world leader in conservation, has put the global population of the western trangopan at 3,500 in 2017.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Gaurav Bisht heads Hindustan Times’ Himachal bureau. He covers politics in the hill state and other issues concerning the masses.

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