Justification of Red List category
This pheasant has a small population which is declining at a moderately rapid rate due to grazing pressure from livestock, hunting and loss of habitat due to changing land-use patterns, so it qualifies as Vulnerable.
Quantifying this species' population size is difficult due to ongoing declines which are thought to have decreased numbers (sometimes considerably) since estimates were made. Previous suggestion that there are only 2000-2,700 mature individuals (Rahmani 2012) may have proven too pessimistic. Although the Nepalese population is estimated at fewer than 1,500 individuals (c. 1,000 mature individuals; C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2012), Awan et al. (2014) found large numbers in Jelum valley Pakistan, potentially equivalent to 2,000-3,000 pairs and there are likely to be c.1,000-3,000 mature individuals in India based on the area of suitable habitat and recorded densities (see Sathyakumar and Kaul 2007, Awan 2013, Awan et al. 2014). It bears mention, however, that the species has declined at least locally since many of these estimates were made. Consequently, the population is estimated to fall in the band 2,500-9,999 mature individuals.
This species appears to be particularly vulnerable to hunting pressure as it has a strong association with human settlements, relying on low-level anthropogenic disturbance to maintain its preferred habitat. Hunting pressure and habitat fragmentation are causing a moderately rapid decline.
Trend data, however, are geographically variable. In Nepal, the population at Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve (a stronghold of the species in Nepal and across its entire range; see Garson and Baral 2006) exhibited a significant decline between 2003 and 2013 (Basnet et al. 2020) from an average of 15.15 individuals counted to 6.00 based on counts from 13 stations. Of particular note was the species' absence from Kandedanda station which, in 2003, was one of those with the highest numbers, and there were marked declines too at Lamathan and Nabithumko stations. These data mirror declines of more than 50% in Kaligandaki between 2004 and 2009 (Subedi 2013), as well as declines documented from Rara National Park between 2005 and 2008 (see Budhathapa 2006, Singh 2009). In Pakistan, Awan et al. (2012, 2014) document the apparent disappearance of the species from Neelum valley, Salkhala Game Reserve, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Margalla National Park. Other populations, especially those in inaccessible terrain free from hunting and snaring pressures, appear to have remained stable in the same time periods (Basnet et al. 2020) while those in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan, may even be slowly increasing (Iftikhar et al. 2017). Combining these data with approximations of population sizes in each region, the global population trend is estimated at c.10-19% over three generations (19.3 years; Bird et al. 2020).
Catreus wallichii occurs in the western Himalaya from north Pakistan, through Kashmir into Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, India, and east to central Nepal (BirdLife International 2001).
It is resident in precipitous, rocky terrain dominated by scrub, tall grass and scattered clumps of trees, most frequently from 1,445-3,050 m, but occasionally down to 950 m at least (Bisht et al. 2007). Occupied sites are characterised by a combination of low shrubs subject to regular browsing and cutting, with grass growing through spring and summer being widely harvested for livestock fodder in the autumn. It has been recorded in regenerating coniferous and broadleaved forests, as well as juniper and rhododendron on grassy slopes (Subedi 2003). Its preference for early successional habitats, often created by traditional grass cutting and burning regimes, has led to an association with human settlements (and therefore high susceptibility to hunting). It digs for roots and tubers, and also eats seeds, berries, insects and grubs (Ali and Ripley 1987). It has been recorded breeding in India in May, June and September with clutch sizes of 6-12 eggs (Bisht et al. 2005).
Having been widely shot for sport in the early 20th century, it is still hunted for food, and its eggs are collected for local consumption. Indeed, hunters in Nepal claim that they can trap up to 50 birds in one session through the use of snares and live decoys (Singh 2009), methods that are widespread in the species' range (P. Garson in litt. 2009). Hunting pressure in Nepal may be exacerbated by increased gun-ownership following the Maoist insurgency, especially in the west of the country (C. Inskipp in litt. 2009). The species is hunted in remote areas to provide a traditional treatment of asthma, body pain and fever, and it may be traded locally, although in some areas local people strictly prohibit hunting (C. Inskipp and H.S. Baral in litt. 2013).
The patchy nature of its specialised habitat may render the smallest isolated populations vulnerable to extinctions, and higher levels of disturbance, grazing and the felling of wooded ravines now pose a substantial threat. In particular, hunting pressure and habitat destruction by fire and overgrazing have been implicated in its decline in Pakistan (Subedi 2003). However, burning, grazing and timber collection are also important in maintaining the open successiional habitats which the species favours, and healthy populations have persisted in some heavily grazed sites such as the Chail and Majathal Wildlife Sanctuaries in Himachal Pradesh (P. Garson in litt. 2013). Notably, Singh et al. (2011) found no correlation between Cheer Pheasant density and either grass cover or measures of grazing pressure in Dhorpatan Valley, Nepal, suggesting that current levels of exploitation were not adversely affecting the species. However the conversion of grassland to permanent arable terraces is reducing available habitat, as are schemes to plant mid-altitude grasslands with forest. Nest disturbance by dogs has also been identified as a threat.
Hydroelectric projects (HEPs) have been planned in almost all major rivers and their tributaries in Himachal Pradesh (S.P. Dhiman in litt. 2013). A large area of Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary is under threat from submergence due to the construction of the Kol Dam upriver on the Sutlej River, and large-scale dam projects also threaten sites in the Beas Valley (V. Jolli in litt. 2013). A total of 125 planned HEPs in the major river basins include 43 HEPs in the Sutlej catchment, 45 in the Beas, 26 in the Ravi and 11 in the Yamuna (S.P. Dhiman in litt. 2013).
Many populations in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand lie outside the protected area network and hence are vulnerable to illegal trapping and hunting (R. Kalsi in litt. 2013). Furthermore, in June 2013 the boundaries of many protected areas were redefined to exclude villages, and some important habitats near human habitations (including Majathal, Chail and Kalatop Khajjiar) are now excluded from the protected area network, leaving them at greater risk of over-exploitation and development (S.P. Dhiman in litt. 2013).
Conservation and Research Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. The species is legally protected in Pakistan, Nepal and India and occurs in a number of protected areas in those countries. Many status surveys have now been conducted throughout its range. In Pakistan a re-introduction project in Margalla Hills National Park was unsuccessful. Capacity building workshops were organized for Wildlife staff of Jhelum valley in 2011 to improve long-term monitoring at established survey plots. Additionally conservation awareness sessions were delivered in schools and with communities of the Jhelum valley to help raise their awareness of the pheasant and its habitat (Awan 2011). Similar activities were conducted in Kahuta valley to help protect the species and its habitat (Awan 2013). Most recently a project entitled “Communities engagement and conservation awareness of Cheer Pheasant in Pir-Chinasi Mountains, Kashmir Himalaya, Pakistan” has been started by Himalayan Nature Conservation Foundation with financial assistance from Oriental Bird Club. An awareness program for the species is in progress in six villages and schools in Pir-Chinasi to help protect the species and its habitat. In the last six years around about 80-100 wildlife and forest staff has been trained in Cheer Pheasant conservation in Pakistan (M.N. Awan in litt. 2016).
Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Survey areas where populations have been identified but not yet studied, particularly in western Nepal and Pakistan. Monitor populations at as many key sites as possible. Study burning and grazing regimes at known sites to monitor their impacts, both positive and negative. Develop a species management plan to cover habitat prescriptions, public awareness and the enforcement of hunting bans.
Manage habitat at occupied sites, using moderate burning and grazing to maintain optimal conditions. Use the species as a flagship species in producing and promoting habitat management recommendations. Control poaching using legal enforcement and public awareness programmes. Initiate ecotourism projects to generate income at known sites (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012).
Male 90-118 cm, female 61-76 cm. Grey, brown and buff bar-tailed pheasant with long crest and red facial skin. Male has largely plain pale-greyish upper neck and clear, dark barring on upperparts. Female is smaller, somewhat duller and more heavily marked. Similar spp. Possibly confusable with female Kalij Pheasant Lophura leucomelanos, but rather pale neck and underparts with dark scaling/mottling rufous-buff to buffish-washed rump, belly and vent, and long, straight barred tail distinctive. Voice Loud chir-a-pir chir-a-pir chir chir-chirwa chirwa and high, piercing chewewoo notes, interspersed with short chut and harsh staccato notes.
Text account compilers
Acharya, R., Awan, M.N., Baral, H.S., Bashir, S., Benstead, P., Bird, J., Corder, J., Davidson, P., Dhiman, S., Garson, P., Inskipp, C., Jolli, V., Kalsi, R., Kaul, R., Keane, A., Khwaja, N., McCausland, I., Mohan, L., Rahmani, A., Ramesh, K., Sajwan, K., Sharma, M., Singh, P., Subedi, P., Symes, A. & Taylor, J.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Catreus wallichii. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/cheer-pheasant-catreus-wallichii on 01/12/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 01/12/2023.