Malay Crestless Fireback Lophura erythrophthalma


Justification of Red List Category
Habitat loss in this species' range is rapid and as a species entirely dependent on plains-level forest, the population size is thought to be declining at a similar rate, evidenced by its extirpation from many sites it formerly occupied. In addition to net losses, forest in this species' range is now heavily fragmented, opening up access to smaller forest patches for hunting. Combining all these threats, the species is now thought to be declining extremely rapidly and is at great risk of extinction. For these reasons it is assessed as Critically Endangered.

Population justification
In 2000, the population was suspected to fall into the band 10,000-19,999 mature individuals, however the species is suspected to have undergone a catastrophic decline since this time due to habitat loss and hunting (the latter unquantifiable), such that although the population size is now thought to be potentially much lower; there is no robust estimate that can be made. Historically, the species occurred (locally) at reasonably high density (6 birds/km2 [Johnsgard 1999]) but it is unclear whether current pressures of hunting and fragmentation allow such densities to persist anywhere, and a recent camera trapping exercise in Peninsular Malaysia lasting three months (August-October 2019) in habitat that is ostensibly ideal for the species recorded it only four times across 12 locations (totalling an equivalent of 542 days of survey effort) (Hamirul et al. 2021). Establishing a robust population estimate for this species should be considered a priority, as well as determining which forest patches it unequivocally still occurs in.

Trend justification
The species is dependent on plains-level forest cover (either primary forest or mature secondary); consequently the population impact of forest cover loss is expected to be equal to or greater than the rate of loss. Losses over the past three-generations (20.6 years; Bird et al. 2020) of flat, low-lying (<200 m) forest in this species' range are estimated at 65-68% (Global Forest Watch [2021], based on Hansen et al. [2013] and methods disclosed therein). Fragmentation and collinear impacts of hunting (Symes et al. 2018, Savini et al. 2021) are believed to have additive impacts. The average forest patch size in this species' range fell from 2,250 km2 to 221 km2 between 2000 and 2018, while the number of patches rose from 105 to 345 (Savini et al. 2021). Accumulating these threats, the overall rate in population reduction has likely exceeded 80% over the past three generations. This is supported by the fact that of c.22 sites in Peninsular Malaysia identified as having records since 1980 (BirdLife International 2001), only c.6 still have an extent of suitable habitat for the species (and at some of these there are no recent records), with many sites having been lost to plantations and housing (eBird 2021, J. Eaton in litt. 2022, G. Davison in litt. 2022). These rates of reduction are suspected to continue over the next three generations with few remaining areas of habitat being afforded adequate protections from forest loss and/or hunting. It is notable that hunting is suspected to have caused the loss of birds within Taman Negara National Park (J. Eaton in litt. 2022) which is nominally among the best-protected of sites in this species’ range. Almost all suitable habitat on Sumatra (where it was seemingly always rare [van Marle & Voous 1988, BirdLife International 2001], notwithstanding its low detectability) has been cleared and remaining areas of forest continue to be encroached upon from all sides.

Distribution and population

Lophura erythrophthalma occurs in Peninsular Malaysia, and Sumatra, Indonesia (del Hoyo et al. 1994, Johnsgard 1999). There are just a handful of records from Sumatra, chiefly from Riau and Jambi provinces (van Marle and Voous 1988, eBird 2021). However, it is not a widespread species and appears to be localised, suggesting the total population is moderately small, although it is probably under-recorded owing to its occurrence in less accessible peat forest and karst forest.


It is an extreme lowland specialist, inhabiting primary and well-regenerated, closed canopy, evergreen plains-level forest, below 300 m (Wells 1999, Eaton et al. 2016). The species may have some tolerance of some selective logging (e.g. Johnsgard 1999). However, precise details of its habitat preferences, and its ecological interactions with its congener L. rufa, are lacking. Where L. rufa populations increase (especially on slopes), L. erythrophthalma appears to be excluded and the two species appear to have non-overlapping ranges (Johnsgard 1999, Wells 1999). In Peninsular Malaysia, the species breeds at least during March-September (Wells 1999).


The overriding threats are habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation as a result of large-scale clearance for plantations of oil-palm and to a lesser extent rubber and timber. The conversion of habitat is typically preceded by commercial logging, which targets all remaining stands of valuable timber, even within protected areas. The rate of plains-level forest loss in the Thai-Malay Peninsula has been extremely rapid and is compounded by the associated impacts of fragmentation that increases extinction debt risks and increases access for hunting (Savini et al. 2021). This has occurred even within protected areas (J. Eaton in litt. 2022).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
It occurs in several protected areas, including Taman Negara and Krau Wildlife Reserve (Malaysia). The European captive population is not thought to be currently viable in the long term due to diminishing genetic diversity (A. Hennache in litt. 2004).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Advocate full protection under Indonesian and Malaysian law. Conduct further research into its ecological requirements, including its relationship with L. ignita. Conduct extensive field surveys to establish its distribution and population status in Sumatra. Following surveys, review whether key populations are adequately represented within the existing protected areas network, and advocate protection of further areas if necessary. Assist forest managers in habitat identification and zoning of concession areas. Promote the concept of Forest Management Units in Sabah. Develop support mechanisms for key IBAs in Peninsular Malaysia. Promote the careful management of captive stocks including the establishment of a studbook to re-establish a viable captive-breeding programme (Collar and Butchart 2013, R. Wirth in litt. 2022). Continue to closely monitor forest loss using remote sensing data.


Male 47-51 cm, female 42-44 cm. Dark pheasant with short, black-based, caramel-coloured tail. Male, blackish (glossed purplish-blue) with fine whitish vermiculations on upperparts and breast-sides. Female, blackish overall (glossed dark purplish- to greenish-blue) with browner head, paler throat and largely glossless dark tail, centre of belly, vent and flight feathers. Juvenile (both sexes) like female but with rusty-tipped body feathers. Similar spp. Males of the allopatric L. pyronota have a matt pale grey neck and bold, narrow white streaking from the neck to mid-belly and hindneck to mantle. Male easily told from Malay Crested Fireback L. ignita by red facial skin, plain underparts and distinctive tail, but care should be taken to separate it from Salvadori's Pheasant L. inornata. Voice Low tak-takrau, vibrating throaty purr and loud kak when alarmed. Low clucking when foraging.


Text account compilers
Martin, R., Berryman, A.

Bakewell, D., Davison, G., Eaton, J., Hennache, A., van Balen, B.S. & Wirth, R.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Lophura erythrophthalma. Downloaded from on 01/04/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 01/04/2023.