Justification of Red List Category
The last (unconfirmed) sighting of this species was in the late 1980s and it is now considered Extinct in the Wild. There are two captive populations. An apparently suitable forest remnant has been identified for future reintroduction efforts.
A captive population was established in Rio de Janeiro in 1977. Currently the population is kept in two aviaries, numbering over 100 purebred individuals and additionally around 40 hybrids of M. mitu and the Amazonian Razor-billed Curassow M. tuberosum (Pereira et al. 2014). In 2017, two individuals were transferred to an aviary in Mata do Cedro to prepare for the reintroduction. The reintroduction is scheduled to take place during 2018 (Lisboa 2017).
Mitu mitu was endemic to the Pernambuco Centre of Endemism (Alagoas and Pernambuco, north-east Brazil), where it has almost certainly been extirpated. A report from north Bahia is unreliable. It went unreported between the mid-17th century, when found in Pernambuco, and 1951, when rediscovered around São Miguel dos Campos, Alagoas. Since the early 1970s, there are records from four forests in this region. Most likely, the species was uncommon and not widespread within its presumed historical distribution (Silveira et al. 2004): Numbers were probably as few as 20, even in the 1960s (del Hoyo 1994). The most recent reports were of hunted individuals in 1984 and perhaps 1987 or 1988.
The species was apparently confined to lowland primary forest, where it was known to take fruit of Phyllanthus, Eugenia and mangabeira (see Muñoz and Kattan 2007). In captivity, the female lays two or three eggs per clutch. The age of youngest breeding female was two years (del Hoyo 1994).
The extinction of this species had been forecast since its discovery. Ceaseless clearance of its lowland forest habitat, chiefly for sugarcane, and poaching had soon brought it to the verge of extinction. Sugarcane demand increased dramatically in the late 1970s, owing to a government programme to increase fuel alcohol production, hastening the destruction of remaining habitat. Pesticide-use in cane fields surrounding extant forest may also have had a detrimental effect. The last remaining area of reasonably extensive lowland forest in the region was virtually entirely cleared within six months in the late 1980s, while continued hunting served only to exacerbate the species's decline. The captive population, which was established from only three individuals, has been undergoing a severe bottleneck with a drastic decrease in genetic diversity (Costa et al. 2017). However, despite the loss of genetic diversity and the subsequent hybridization with M. tuberosum, several purebred M. mitu have persisted throughout the 35 years of captive breeding (Costa et al. 2017).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and protected under Brazilian law. In 2003, the Committee for the Recovery and Management of Alagoas Curassow Mitu mitu was created (Brooks 2006). A private captive population, supplemented from the wild, was established in 1977, and divided between two well known aviculturists in 1999 when it numbered 44 individuals, with 10 eggs in artificial incubation (Atualidades Ornitológicas 2000). A 30 km2 forest remnant in Alagoas (Reserva Particular do Patrimonio Natural Mata do Cedro) has been identified for potential reintroduction attempts by the government of Alagoas (Grau et al. 2003, Gama et al. 2016). In autumn 2017, the first two individuals were transferred to a 400 m2 aviary in Mata do Cedros to adapt to the reintroduction site. The reintroduction is scheduled to start in 2018 (Lisboa 2017). Other efforts in 1983-1985 to capture wild individuals for a captive-breeding population failed. Searches of remaining forest fragments in 2001 failed to find any trace of the species (Silveira et al. 2003). The genetic composition of the captive population has been studied by Mercival Francisco and a studbook created (L. F. Silveira in litt. 2012).
83-89 cm. Large cracid with casque-like bill. All black plumage, glossed purplish-blue, except chestnut at base of tibia, vent and undertail-coverts, and narrowly brown-tipped tail. Slightly swollen red bill with whitish tip, red legs and toes and reddish-brown iris. Small crescent of bare greyish-white skin on rear ear-coverts. Similar spp. Only genus member with bare skin on ear-coverts. Congenerics have white tips to tail. Most closely resembles Razor-billed Curassow M. tuberosa, but bill not as massive and is two-toned. Voice Apparently undescribed, but males apparently share booming calls of congenerics (L. F. Silveira in litt. 2012).
Text account compilers
Hermes, C., Martin, R., Sharpe, C.J., Symes, A., Benstead, P.
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Mitu mitu. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/02/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/02/2020.