Western Tragopan Tragopan melanocephalus


Justification of Red List category
This species is classified as Vulnerable because its small and sparsely distributed population is declining and becoming increasingly fragmented in the face of continuing forest loss and degradation throughout its restricted range. Larger recent population estimates and its discovery at several new locations suggest the global population size may prove to be larger than previously thought.

Population justification
A population estimate of at least 5,000 individuals is derived from Gaston et al. (1981b) and McGowan and Garson (1995). This is roughly equivalent to 3,300 mature individuals. Recent reports of additional populations in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan and Himachal Pradesh may lead to an increase in the estimated global population size in the future, although conversely it has been suggested that the world population in the wild has been reduced to 2,500-3,500 individuals (S. Pandey per A. Rahmani in litt. 2012), prompting the need for wider surveys.

Trend justification
The species's population is likely to be in decline given the combined threats of trapping, hunting, disturbance by humans and livestock, and habitat degradation (F. Buner in litt. 2012), but this decline has not been quantified and is not thought to be particularly severe, thus the rate of decline is suspected to be moderate.

Distribution and population

Tragopan melanocephalus has a disjunct distribution in the western Himalayas (Rahmani 2012), occurring from Indus-Kohistan district, north Pakistan, east through Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh to Uttarakhand in north-west India (BirdLife International 2001). Although historically described as scarce and local, a mid-1980s population estimate of 1,600-4,800 birds was revised in the mid-1990s to c.5,000 birds following the discovery of several significant populations in north Pakistan, the largest of which (tentatively estimated at 325 pairs) is in Palas Valley. It had previously been suggested that there were now only 2,500-3,500 individuals remaining in the wild (S. Pandey per A. Rahmani in litt. 2012), given possible past overestimates and ongoing threats to the species. More recently however, estimates of >3,500 birds in the Pakistan administered Jammu and Kashmir regions (Awan 2015), together with the discovery of new populations in Uttrakhand and Kashmir, suggest global estimates might need to be revised upwards.


During the breeding season (April-June), it inhabits little-disturbed temperate coniferous and deciduous forests, from 2,400-3,600 m. In winter, it makes very local altitudinal or lateral movements, to grassy or shrubby gullies with less snow cover, between 1,750 m and 3,000 m.


Threats to the species are thought to have intensified in recent years (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). Habitat degradation and fragmentation through subsistence farming, browsing of understorey shrubs by livestock, tree-lopping for animal fodder and fuelwood-collection, and illegal hunting are the main threats. Disturbance by grazers and particularly collectors of edible fungi and medicinal plants may seriously interfere with nesting. Hunting and trapping for its meat (especially in winter) and its decorative plumage pose additional threats, throughout Pakistan (R. Nawaz in litt. 2004), Himachal Pradesh and Chamba (India).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway

CITES Appendix I. It is afforded legal protection in both India and Pakistan. It occurs in national parks in both Pakistan and India, as well as in 10 wildlife sanctuaries. Discovery of the large Palas population triggered a major conservation initiative in the region for which this bird is the flagship species. It is currently the subject of a conservation breeding programme in Himachal Pradesh (J. Corder in litt. 2004), involving fewer than 10 pairs, which produce fewer than three broods each year (F. Buner in litt. 2012), with the long-term possibility of future releases of parent-reared offspring to augment/restock local wild populations (K. Ramesh in litt. 2007). Awareness-raising activities, field officer training and population surveys were conducted recently in Salkhala Game Reserve, Pakistan (Awan 2010). Surveys in Himachal Pradesh were initiated by the state wildlife department in 2011, and state-wide surveys were started there in 2012 (F. Buner in litt. 2012). Between 2008-2016, 64 population monitoring plots have been established in Pakistan administered Kashmir to record the presence/absence of the species and some smaller but new pockets have been explored, confirming the presence of additional populations in Pakistan. Around each survey plot on average two wildlife staff has been trained for long term monitoring of population trends. Recently a three year project aimed to help educate the local communities for the protection of tragopan and its habitat in Jagran Valley. Through this WWF funded project, nature clubs have been established in schools and awareness sessions have been started to raise awareness about this flagship species (Awan 2016).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct surveys to increase knowledge of its current distribution and abundance, Initiate public awareness campaigns in and around known sites, highlighting its flagship status for the conservation of moist temperate forests and other pheasant species. Develop monitoring methods and then monitor key populations regularly. Study the ecology of radio-tagged birds (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). Improve management in key protected areas. Extend the boundaries of Salkhala Game Reserve and implement a monitoring programme (Awan 2010). Extend the boundaries of older protected areas such as Machiara National Park and Salkhala Game Reserve, and establish new PAs in Pir-Chinasi and Leepa valley (Awan 2016). Extend existing captive breeding programmes.


Male 68-73 cm, female 60 cm. Typical tragopan, with orange to red collar, red facial skin and white-spotted, black belly. Similar spp. Confusion could arise with Satyr Tragopan T. satyra in the south-east of its range, although recent surveys suggest that the two species only occur sympatrically in one area of Uttarakhand where they occur in a single catchment. Male differs from that species primarily by red facial skin and mostly black base-colour of lower breast to vent, female has a noticeably duller and greyer base-colour to upperparts and, in particular, underparts. Voice Territorial call, nasal, wailing khuwaah, repeated 7-15 times during the breeding season. Abrupt waa waa waa when agitated.


Text account compilers
Symes, A., Benstead, P., Taylor, J., Bird, J., Davidson, P., Keane, A.

Ramesh, K., Nawaz, R., Awan, M., Buner, F., Bashir, S., Corder, J., Mohan, L., Kaul, R., Rahmani, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Tragopan melanocephalus. Downloaded from on 29/09/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 29/09/2023.