By Adeel Saeed
PESHAWAR, Jul 15 (APP): The cheer pheasant, an elusive wild bird with beautiful plumage, has been successfully re-introduced in natural forests of Pakistan, portraying incessant efforts for the conservation of endangered species in the country.
The Wildlife Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recently announced exploring of a viable but vulnerable population of endangered cheer pheasant in a natural forest of Mansehra district of the province.
“I hereby officially declare that we have successfully explored a viable but vulnerable population of cheer pheasants ranging from 15 to 20 pairs,” reads a message shared by Taimur Ali Shah, Divisional Wildlife Officer Mansehra district.A few pairs of rare cheer pheasant released from captivity at Dhodial Pheasantry into a dense forest around three years ago have now grown into a flock of around 20 pairs, said Taimur.
This is a feat worth mentioning as it would provide new and valuable insights for the conservation of endangered and rare species in the country, Taimur expressed the hope while talking to APP.Cheer was an indigenous pheasant species of Pakistan but had become extinct from natural habitat and was found only in captivity, Taimur informed.In Pakistan six pheasant species are found including Khalij (Lophoraleucomalana), Koklass (Pucrasiamacrolopha), Cheer (Catreus wallichii), Western Tragopan (Tragopan melanocephalus), Monal (Lophophorus impeynus) and Blue Peafowl (Pavo Cristatus).Among these six pheasant species five are found in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa except for Blue Peafowl which is found in Sindh province.The population of cheer pheasant which is listed in the IUCN’s red list as `vulnerable’ witnessed a significant decline in Pakistan and in late 80’s become almost extinct due to threats including poaching, hunting, grass burning and shrinking of habitats.
About the location of the discovery, Taimur said details at this stage were decided not to be disclosed in the best interest of birds from a protection point of view.The discovered forest is vulnerable to many challenges from the local population due to poverty, medicinal plants, fuel food collection and illegal hunting, he continued.If poachers got information about the location, they would attempt to lure locals for catching and selling rare birds in open markets at attractive prices, he expressed the apprehension.
Taimur informed APP that this was not the first time that the Wildlife Department made an attempt to re-introduce cheer in its natural habitat. Continuing,he said,for the last 30 years, since the early 90’s the department had been engaged in conservation of cheer through development of a breeding stock at Dhodial Pheasantry and reintroduction in natural habitat.
These efforts were not showing fruitful results due to different reasons including high mortality rates among birds and mostly because of the shy nature of the bird which liked dense forest and complete isolation.
Even this latest achievement was attained due to enclosing of the habitat with the help of local communities engaged in protection of planted trees under Green Pakistan Project and after passage of three years the impact and improvement in the population of cheer is witnessed.Sharing story of cheer conservation in Pakistan, Dr. Mumtaz Malik, former Chief Conservator of Wildlife Department and founder of Dhodial Pheasantry informed that in early 90’s Wildlife Department approached World Pheasants Association (WPA) with the request for providing eggs of cheer birds for re-introduction in Pakistan.
WPA responded positively and sent 90 eggs which were hatched through hen at Dhodial Pheasantry and a stock of chicks were achieved, Dr. Mumtaz reminisced..The plan at that time was to grow a breeding stock and release new birds in natural habitats, but high mortality rate among chicks and even grown up birds hampered progress in its execution, he added.
The department kept on making repeated attempts and finally in 1997 a breeding stock of cheer pheasant was obtained at Dhodial pheasantry, but still the goal of re-introduction was far away from success.Several attempts were made through releasing birds at different locations, but desired results could not be obtained and monitoring staff reported disappearance of the released birds within a few months.In early 2000, Mumtaz continued, a plan of engaging local farmers living within the habitats of cheer pheasants was also chalked out.
Farmers were offered a monthly stipend of Rs. 500 for hatching of cheer eggs at home, raising of chicks and later releasing the grown up birds into the natural habitat.This plan also became abortive due to the devastating earthquake in 2005 causing massive destruction and dislocation of people, Malik deplored.However, this time the efforts of the Wildlife department bore fruits as the forest was enclosed and birds remained undisturbed from anthropogenic activities.
“This is good news for me and my other colleagues because the efforts initiated by us around 30 years ago finally meet fruition and the cheer pheasants are found in their natural environment,” Mumtaz Malik remarked.He also suggested strict guarding of the area so that birds’ population grew up to satisfactory level and become fully familiar in the area.
For making new discoveries as successful, Taimur also proposed offering some benefits to local communities to play an effective role in cheer pheasant protection.In this regard, Taimur requested Chief Conservator Wildlife Department KP to announce at least two watchers posts for community engagement in protection of reintroduced cheer pheasants and also declare the area as a conservancy.