Justification of Red List Category
This pheasant's small population is naturally fragmented because it lives in small patches of successional grassland. Human population pressure, grazing pressure from livestock, hunting and changing patterns of land-use are resulting in its decline within this habitat, so it qualifies as Vulnerable. Some recent information puts the population size at a lower level than was previously estimated; however, it is not thought likely that all subpopulations are very small, so its status is currently retained as Vulnerable.
The population was formerly estimated to number 4,000-6,000 individuals, roughly equivalent to 2,700-4,000 mature individuals (R. Kaul in litt. 2007). Subsequent surveys of previously-studied sites in Himachal Pradesh showed evidence of significant declines and even disappearance from some sites, suggesting that a revised population estimate could be 3,000–4,000 individuals (R. Kalsi pers. comm., in Rahmani 2012), roughly equating to 2,000-2,700 mature individuals. More recent regional estimates suggest that the total population may be considerably larger: while no more than 1,500 individuals are estimated to survive in Nepal, in Pakistan a significant breeding population persists in Jhelum valley which could be as large as c.2,490 pairs (Awan et al. 2014), and additional numbers in the Kahuta valley may increase the total further. The global total may therefore prove to be larger but the current estimate of 2,000-2,700 mature individuals is maintained until larger numbers can be confirmed.
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 suspected to be causing a moderate global decline.
Catreus wallichii occurs in the western Himalayas from north Pakistan, through Kashmir into Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, India, and east to central Nepal (BirdLife International 2001). It has always been reported as uncommon with a patchy distribution owing to its specialised habitat requirements, which often bring it into close proximity to human populations (K. Ramesh in litt. 2004). Many subpopulations are thought to number fewer than ten individuals, living in small pockets of suitable habitat.
In Pakistan, the species is currently surviving in two main valleys, Jhelum and Kahuta. Jhelum valley, which holds the largest known population of the species in Pakistan, has three main locations ( Pir-Chinasi, Gari Doppata and Chinari) where mean density was estimated at 11.8±6.47 pairs per km2 (Awan et al. 2014). In Kahuta valley in District Haveli , 17 calling locations were recorded from eight survey plots (Awan 2013). Evidence of presence in Machiara National Park is available, suggesting its re-establishment in the park area. There are possible new sites around Muzaffarabad, PirLasura NP and Masehra District of Khyber Pakhtoonkhawa (M. N. Awan, pers. obs.), however, no signs of the species were found during general bird surveys in Salkhala Game Reserve, which may reflect its local extinction there (Awan et al. 2012).
In India it has also declined, with most known populations now confined to Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The areas in and around Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary and Chail Wildlife Sanctuary in Himachal Pradesh appear to be important, but there are other unprotected grasslands in Uttrakhand that might support substantial numbers. The population in the Kai-i-nag and Poonch areas of Kashmir is also thought to be sizeable (Srivastava and Kaul 2007) A recent survey (Poddar et al. 2015) undertaken in three districts of Himachal found the species persisting at sites from where they were confirmed three decades ago, and located new populations. However, certain sites where they were found earlier (eg. Kaksthal, Tundah, Bhatal and Thathana in Chamba, Himachal) may have lost the species (R. Kalsi pers. obs.).
In Nepal, it appears to be localised, occurring from the Baitadi district in the west to the Kali Gandaki river. The most important area in the country is Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve (C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2012). Surveys conducted here in 1981 and 2003 revealed a slight decline, with a population estimate of 127-212 birds in the valley, but the downward trend was not statistically significant (Subedi 2003). Areas surrounding Dhorpatan have also been found to support populations at similar densities of 5-12.5 birds/km2, with populations in Surtibhag, Phagune, Bobang and Muri areas estimated at 37 (± 9), 167 (± 16), 67 (± 10) and 101 (±10) pairs respectively, with no apparent change in population since surveys in 1981 (Singh et al. 2011). Small populations were identified at Trikuta and within Rara National Park in 2005 and local reports during that survey indicated that the species occurs more widely within Mugu and Jumla districts (Bhudathapa 2006). Surveys in Rara National Park in 2006 and 2008 indicate that the population there is no longer viable, while anecdotal evidence from local shepherds suggests that the species is in decline (Singh 2009), and visiting birdwatchers are finding it more difficult to locate the species there (C. Inskipp in litt. 2009), as well as at Ghansa, but the level of threat is thought to remain low in parts of its range (Acharya and Thapa 2003). The total Nepalese population is thought likely to number fewer than 1,500 individuals (C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2012). The number of new locations discovered following recently increased survey effort indicates that additional areas of suitable habitat will be found to support the species. For instance, significant numbers have recently been found in the Bajura district, in far western Nepal (C. Inskipp in litt. 2016).
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's 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). Significantly, 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 in Himachal Pradesh, including a week-long intensive survey involving 3,000 Forest Department staff in 2005, as well as in Uttarakhand, India (Bish et al. 2007), and in Nepal, using a standardised call count methodology along with research into population ecology and habitat preferences (Subedi 2003, Garson and Baral 2006). Surveys have been undertaken in Rara National Park, mid-western Nepal, in 2006 and 2008 (Singh 2009). An awareness-raising project was carried out in the Kali Gandaki Valley by the Annapurna Conservation Area Project, the World Pheasant Association and Bird Conservation Nepal in 2004.
In Pakistan a re-introduction project is believed to have been unsuccessful in Margalla Hills National Park. 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).
A workshop was held in Kathmandu in April 2006 to share information gathered in five separate studies within the species' range (Garson and Baral 2006). A conservation breeding project initiated within Chail Wildlife Sanctuary in Himachal Pradesh by the State Forest Department has so far raised about 70 birds, of which about five pairs are fit for release.
Survey areas where populations have been identified but not yet studied, particularly in western Nepal. Monitor populations at as many key sites as possible, and manage habitat at these sites, using moderate burning and grazing to maintain optimal conditions. Develop a species management plan to cover habitat prescriptions, public awareness and the enforcement of hunting bans. Study burning and grazing regimes at known sites to monitor their impacts, both positive and negative. Use the species as a flagship species in producing and promoting habitat management recommendations based on these studies. Control poaching using legal enforcement and public awareness programmes. Initiate ecotourism projects to generate income at Cheer Pheasant 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
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Davidson, P., Keane, A., Taylor, J., Khwaja, N. & Symes, A.
Acharya, R., Baral, H., Bashir, S., Corder, J., Garson, P., Inskipp, C., Kaul, R., Mohan, L., Ramesh, K., Singh, P., Subedi, P., Rahmani, A., Dhiman, S., Sharma, M., McCausland, I., Jolli, V., Awan, M., Kalsi, R. & Sajwan, K.
BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Catreus wallichii. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 12/12/2019. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2019) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 12/12/2019.