Justification of Red List Category
This species qualifies as Vulnerable because its total population is believed to be small, declining and scattered in small subpopulations within a severely fragmented range. Widespread high levels of hunting and continuing habitat destruction will inevitably exacerbate this situation.
The population is estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners or close relatives with a similar body size, and the fact that only a proportion of the estimated Extent of Occurrence is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.
The species is suspected to be declining at a moderate rate, owing to widespread forest clearance, as well as hunting pressure in parts of its range.
Tragopan blythii occurs from Bhutan, through Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur in north-east India, and north Myanmar, to south-east Tibet and north-west Yunnan, China (BirdLife International 2001). It has not been recorded since the early 1970s in Bhutan (S. Sherub in litt. 2012), although subspecies molesworthi may occupy some parts of eastern Bhutan (McGowan and Kirwan 2020). Recent information suggests it is rare in most of India, although 50% of the population is thought to occur in the Nagaland region (Eastern Mirror Nagaland 2017). It is uncommon or rare in the Chin Hills-Mt Victoria region of west Myanmar (T. Htin Hla in litt. 2007), where although it may have declined, good evidence is lacking (J. C. Eames in litt. 2004). It is also locally uncommon on Mt Majed and Mt Emawbon in eastern Kachin State, Myanmar (T. Htin Hla in litt. 2007). Call counts detected 14 pairs in the 50 km2 Blue Mountain National Park, Mizoram. Surveys conducted in 2015 in Nagaland confirmed its presence from Khonoma (Kohima district), Satoi and Tsuruhu (Zunheboto district), Seyochung (Kiphire district), Thanamir, Fakim and Vongtsuvong (Kiphire district). The species has also been detected at both Mount Kennedy and Mount Saramati (Wang 2014). Based on call count studies conducted in Satoi range (Satoi and Tsuruhu), Khonoma and Saramati range (Thanamir, Fakim and Vongtsuvong), maximum calls on a single morning/evening were heard from Satoi (12) followed by Khonoma (6) and Tsuruhu (4) (A. Poddar in litt. 2016). The species has additionally seen sightings in the Mishmi Hills of north-eastern Arunachal Pradesh (King et al. 2008).
It inhabits subtropical and temperate, evergreen oak and rhododendron forests, generally preferring a dense understorey, often dominated by bamboos or ferns in steep or rocky terrain. Its documented altitudinal range is from 1,400 m (winter) up to 3,300 m (summer), but the majority of records come from a rather narrower band (1,800-2,400 m). Its diet primarily includes seeds, berries, fruits and buds. Mating and breeding systems are largely unknown (McGowan and Kirwan 2020).
In north-east India, deforestation is a significant threat, primarily as a result of shifting cultivation. Together with fuelwood-collection and commercial timber extraction, this is rapidly fragmenting suitable habitat, even within protected areas, where enforcement of regulations is often absent or impossible. Hunting for food is the other major threat, particularly in Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, where large-scale snaring of pheasants and partridges by local people is an increasing problem. The population in Arunachal Pradesh is under threat from hydroelectric project developments, and associated road-building and residential expansion (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). In Myanmar there is evidence of hunting on a limited scale but this is not a main target species compared with large game such as wild boar, deer or monkeys. The continuing upward expansion of shifting cultivation for hill rice, using slash-and-burn methods is a long term threat. Increases in secondary growth forest and scrub following fires also limits suitable habitat, whilst human encroachment threatens isolated patches of the species's habitat (Wang 2014). In Bhutan, high levels of grazing and slash-and-burn agriculture are also potentially significant problems. In Nagaland, the species is protected through customary conservation laws enforced by indigenous tribal groups. Despite the law, the bird is often hunted for meat during traditional festivals. It is also hunted routinely, perhaps because of the inadequacy of protein substitutes and non-availability of markets (A. Poddar in litt. 2016).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. The species is legally protected in all countries. It occurs in several protected areas, including: two small wildlife sanctuaries and a community reserve in Nagaland; the Blue Mountain National Park in Mizoram; Mouling National Park (A. Choudhury in litt. 2004), Sessa Orchid Sanctuary (Choudhury 2003), and Eaglenest Mehao and Dibang wildlife sanctuary and Namdapha National Park in Arunachal Pradesh (Srinivasan et al. 2010); Thrumsing La National Park in Bhutan; Gaoligongshan National Park in China (Han Lianxian in litt. 2004), and Natma Taung National Park and Hponkanrazi Wildlife Sanctuary in Myanmar. Subspecies molesworthi may occur in Merak-Sakten Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhutan (Spierenburg 2005).
Surveys for the species have been conducted in many areas in north-east India and in parts of west and north-west Myanmar. In Nagaland, the species occurs in higher densities in Fakim, Satoi, Khonoma, Tsuruhu, Vongtsuvong, and Thanamir, all protected under the state forest department or locally conserved (Eastern Mirror Nagaland 2017). Hunting has moreover been banned across the state (Kumar et al. 2012), whilst trapping has reduced in Manipur (Choudhury 2009). The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) have additionally prepared a four-pillar action plan to acknowledge and raise awareness, enrich livelihood and diversification, enforce habitat protection and promote ownership by people in order to sustainably apply conservation across Nagaland. Captive breeding programmes are ongoing, although remain difficult due to difficulty in producing and ensuring survival of chicks (Eastern Mirror Nagaland 2017).
An international studbook exists documenting the captive population held at locations in North America and Europe; however, recent analysis found the captive population is declining, ageing and highly inbred and requires new founders if it is not to be lost as a conservation resource for the species (St Jalme and Chavanne 2005). Work has since begun to move all of the captive birds in Europe to one location, and plans were in place to exchange birds between Europe and North America in an effort to introduce new blood lines to both populations (Jacken 2009).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Design and implement monitoring projects in Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram as well as in north-west and north-east Myanmar. Initiate a conservation awareness programme with communities in range areas, focusing on the effects of over-exploitation, and encourage local tourism initiatives. Continue (or initiate) surveys to establish its distribution, status and habitat requirements in Myanmar, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Bhutan, Yunnan and south-east Tibet. Use modern methods to study its ecology. Research the taxonomic and genetic status of the separate populations. Review the adequacy of the current protected areas system, to evaluate whether new areas in Myanmar, north-east India and south-east Tibet could be feasibly and usefully protected. Promote the careful management of existing captive populations and introduce new founders. Improve captive-breeding facilities and procedures. Enforce laws preventing poaching and trade of the species (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). Improve strategies to curb the demand for bushmeat in remote areas of Nagaland, where it is being hunted for subsistence purposes (A. Poddar in litt. 2016).
Male 65-70 cm, female 58-59 cm. Typical tragopan with distinctive, greyish lower breast and belly. Similar spp. Male differs from other tragopans by having a grey belly patch and, typically, yellow facial skin, although some males have been noted to have orange or red facial skin, perhaps owing to season and/or breeding condition, and possibly varying between subspecies. Female can be confused with Satyr Tragopan T. satyra and Temminck's Tragopan T. temminckii, but differs from both by yellowish eye-ring and paler, greyer belly, additionally from latter by less distinct pale spots and streaks on underparts. Juvenile initially like female, male gradually attains orange-red on neck during first year. Voice Male territorial call is loud, moaning ohh ohhah ohaah ohaaah ohaaaha ohaaaha ohaaaha.
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Choudhury, A., Davidson, P., Davison, G., Eames, J.C., Ghose, D., Htin Hla, T., Kaul, R., Keane, A., Khwaja, N., Kumar, S., Lianxian, H., Pack-Blumenau, A., Poddar, A., Rahmani, A., Sherub, S., St Jalme, M., Taylor, J. & Zaw, U.K.M.
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Tragopan blythii. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 06/03/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 06/03/2021.