Justification of Red List Category
This poorly known species qualifies as Critically Endangered as a result of its single, small, declining population, which is threatened by the exploitation of scrub-forest, livestock grazing, disturbance and quarrying.There have been no confirmed sightings since 2009.
The population at known sites numbers at least eight individuals, but unsurveyed habitat may support hundreds (R. Green in litt. 2002). It is placed in the band 50-249 mature individuals, equating to 75-374 individuals in total, rounded here to 70-400 individuals.
This species is suspected to have declined at an unquantified rate over the last ten years, owing to unauthorised progress on the Telugu-Ganga canal and additional habitat loss and degradation outside Sri Lankamaleswara Wildlife Sanctuary as a result of an unfavourable grazing regime.
Rhinoptilus bitorquatus is a rare and local endemic to the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh and extreme southern Madhya Pradesh, India (BirdLife International 2001). Historically, it was known from just a few records in the Pennar and Godavari river valleys and was assumed to be extinct until its rediscovery around Lankamalai in 1986. It has since been found at six further localities in the vicinity of the Lankamalai, Velikonda and Palakonda hill-ranges, southern Andhra Pradesh, with all localities probably holding birds from a single population, the majority of which are contained within the Sri Lankamaleswara WildLife Sanctuary. Two individuals were sighted in 2009 in the Cudaapah District of Andhra Pradesh, the first confirmed sightings for several years (BirdLife International 2009). Up to 60 camera traps have been deployed since 2010, but these had not detected any birds by 2012 (Chavan and Barber 2012). DNA analysis of an egg held at the University of Aberdeen’s Zoology Museum in 2013 showed that it was the first known egg of this species; the egg is thought to have been taken in the vicinity of the Kolar Gold Fields, east of Bangalore, in 1917 (Knox and Piertney 2012, University of Aberdeen 2013). This is south of the known range and raises the faint possibility that the species may still persist in the area, and potentially in other similar scrub forest to Sri Lankamaleswara in the Eastern Ghats (S. Wooton in litt. 2016).
It inhabits sparse, thorny (dominated by Acacia, Zizyphus and Carissa) and non-thorny (dominated by Cassia, Hardwickia and Anogeissus) scrub-forest and bushes, interspersed with patches of bare ground, in gently undulating, rocky foothills. Studies using tracking strips have revealed the species has a strong preference for certain densities of scrub-jungle habitat, favouring areas where the density of large bushes is 300-700/ha and small bushes occur at less than 1,000/ha (Jeganathan et al. 2004). It calls and is active mainly at night.
Its known habitat is becoming increasingly scarce and fragmented. The dependence of the settlers on the area for resources, and the increase in the number of settlers, poses a serious threat to habitat through fuel-wood collection, livestock grazing, quarrying and clearance for agriculture and plantations (Jeganathan et al. 2008, Anon. 2010), and to the birds themselves through increased disturbance. Accidental and opportunistic trapping may also be an issue (Jeganathan et al. 2008, Anon. 2010). Suitable habitat for the species lying outside Sri Lankamaleswara Wildlife Sanctuary was threatened by the proposed construction of the Telugu-Ganga Canal in Cuddapah District (Jeganathan and Rahmani 2006); however, in 2008 the Supreme Court, having already halted construction work, approved a new route avoiding the remaining suitable habitat (BirdLife International 2008). Despite this, the remaining habitat is still under threat due to the expected increase of agriculture around the reserve as a result of the construction of the canal (Jeganathan et al. 2008).
Conservation Actions Underway
The local Yanaadi community have been employed to try to locate it. The Sri Lankamaleswara Wildlife Sanctuary and Sri Penusula Narasimha Wildlife Sanctuary have been declared in the Lankamalai, Veliconda and Palakonda hill-ranges as a direct result of its rediscovery. The Telagu-Ganga canal, which would have passed through one of these protected areas, was realigned in response to lobbying that it would fragment habitat, but in 2005 unauthorised work began again on the canal. In February 2006, India's Central Empowerment Committee ruled in favour of a precise route for the canal that will entirely avoid courser habitat (Jeganathan and Rahmani 2006; Anon 2006), and 1,200 ha of land was given in compensation to expand the Sri Lankamaleswara Wildlife Sanctuary (BirdLife International 2009).
In 2008, a workshop was held to draft a Species Recovery Plan. The identified priorities included: to ensure protection of the species's habitat; to map potential habitat of the species within scrub forest using remote sensing; to capture and radio-tag individuals; to increase efforts to identify new sites that may host the species and to raise awareness of the species (Chandrasekhar and Jeganathan 2008). A final draft was submitted to the State Forestry Department and National Government for endorsement (I. Barber in litt. 2009, 2010), and the final version was published in November 2010 (Anon 2010). The development of tracking-strips and camera traps as a survey method is on-going and should facilitate the discovery of other sites (Jeganathan et al. 2002; I. Barber in litt. 2009, 2010). Also, survey methods have been developed to conduct night-time listening surveys for identifying new populations and studying existing ones (Jeganathan et al. 2004). Forest department staff have attended training in survey techniques and habitat management and an awareness-raising programme has so far been attended by more than 85 people from five villages (BNHS in litt. 2011).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Identify areas of suitable habitat within its putative range and conduct surveys of these to establish its current distribution, population status, and assess potential threats. Monitor the species's status at all known locations at intervals of no more than five years (Anon. 2010). Monitor the extent and condition of suitable and potentially suitable habitat (Anon. 2010). Potentially suitable locations that should be investigated for presence of the species are: Godavari Valley, north Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu (Maclean and Sharpe 2015). Carry out a radio-telemetry study and diet analysis using faecal samples to determine the ecological requirements of this species and enable more effective conservation recommendations to be formulated (Jeganathan et al. 2004, Anon. 2010). Make recommendations for its conservation based on survey findings, including the establishment of sites supporting populations as strictly protected areas. Identify and implement suitable conservation actions to maintain scrub habitats (Maclean and Sharpe 2015). Lobby against quarrying and proposed mining activities that threaten existing habitat. Take a precautionary approach regarding habitat management (Anon. 2010). Expand conservation awareness programmes and promote alternative livelihoods in and around areas supporting populations to minimise habitat alteration, disturbance and trapping (Anon. 2010). Continue to train forest department staff, local communities and volunteers to carry out surveys for the species (Anon. 2010).
27 cm. Unmistakable, compact courser with two brown breast-bands. Has shortish, black-tipped yellow bill, mostly blackish crown, broad buffish supercilium and orange-chestnut throat patch. In flight, shows mostly black tail and white patch near tips of black primaries.
Text account compilers
Peet, N., Westrip, J., Bird, J., Ashpole, J, Calvert, R., Tobias, J., Benstead, P., Davidson, P., Symes, A., Butchart, S., Taylor, J.
Wooton, S., Barber, I., Jeganathan, P.
BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Rhinoptilus bitorquatus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 26/03/2019. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2019) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 26/03/2019.