Pheasant perfect
The number of highly endangered western tragopan, the least studied bird in the world, has been multiplying
Vishal Gulati

The presence of the highly endangered, elusive western tragopan can now be felt more clearly in the Great Himalayan National Park in Kulu in Himachal Pradesh, with its numbers multiplying.

Park authorities say the population of this brilliantly coloured pheasant species in the park has gone up, and so has its sighting.

"The density of the western tragopan in the park was 6.5 birds per sq km (in this year's census). Last year, it was six birds per sq km, while it was just five birds in 2010," Park Director Ajay Srivastav said.

For population estimation, the western tragopan, like other pheasant species, needs specialised techniques. One of the standard census techniques is recording their call counts at a specified time and location.

Srivastav said the estimation was done at 18 locations. "This exercise is now part of regular monitoring protocol being followed in the park to ascertain the status of population dynamics of the western tragopan."

Srivastav attributed the increase to management strategies in terms of protection through regular patrolling of the area. From March-end till mid-June, all pheasant species breed. "The male tragopan gives a loud chorus before dawn during the breeding season. In the estimation, every male call is counted, which gives an index of the population in a specified area," Srivastav said, adding, "The mating call is different from the distress call."

During the estimation, all teams were given Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and data sheets to record the altitude and the calls of the tragopan.

The western tragopan belongs to the family Phasianidae, which also includes peafowl and red jungle fowl. It's the least studied bird in the world.

Being a shy bird, it is rarely sighted and is found at an altitude of 2,000 to 3,600 metres in the temperate forests of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Jennifer R.B. Miller, who studied the park in April-May 2008 during the US Fulbright Student Research Scholarship, says the populations of three pheasant species western tragopan, koklas and Himalayan monal in the Great Himalayan National Park have grown since surveyed in the late 1990s.

"Surveys conducted in the late 1990s indicated that pheasant populations in the park were declining. In 1999, the government legally notified the park and the authorities began enforcing the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act. Relative abundances of all three pheasant species were significantly higher (in 2008) than in previous surveys," says Miller in her paper titled Himalayan Pheasants in the Great Himalayan National Park published in the Indian Birds journal in 2010. IANS