Himachal State Bird – Western Tragopan Faces Uncertain Future

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Facing Extinction:Western Tragopan breeding program headed for disaster

Shimla: After spending crores of rupees on conservation breeding of Western Tragopan, a highly endangered Western Himalayan pheasant facing extinction, the program is but an apparent failure that the wild life officials and an overseas consultant refuse to acknowledge.

Reliable sources revealed that in March-April, 2010 nearly all of the 23 Western Tragopan’s in captivity at the specially made Saharan breeding center in Shimla district had bacterial infection and were being treated.

Eventually three adult females’ birds died, leaving behind a population of 11 males and 9 females.

The surviving birds laid 17 fertilized eggs of which only one hatched and that too the chick died within a week. Post-mortem findings of the dead birds including the chick has revealed bacterial (e-coli) infection.

Since 1992, when the Saharan aviary was set up for captive breeding of the Western Tragopan so as to augment the depleting population in the wild, this centre has bred only 20 birds and thus far has not been able to release any bird into the wild.

In 2009, two chicks had managed to survived out of 23 fertilized eggs that were laid.

Differing with the wildlife department run program under the supervision of John Corder, a British expert, Kaushlendra Singh, a Lucknow based wild life activist says, “As far as I can make out, the project is heading for total disaster.”

Singh who has been a member of Uttrakhand Wild Life Board and is currently involved in saving the Dudhwa Tigers along with Francy Hermans, a Belgian breeder of pheasants including Tragopans, on the invitation of Himachal wild life officials had visited Saharan in 2006.

The duo in a written report had pointed out the deficiencies in the breeding program to the Himachal government.

Observations then made by Kaushlendra were, “ I was shocked to see the upkeep and management of the world’s rarest pheasant. With all of them having eco parasites, nutrition being given was as good as being given to village hens, incubator courtesy World Pheasant Association (WPA), United Kingdom was non-functional, no brooders and people entrusted with the job and trained in United Kingdom had no knowledge, as a result year after year there has been no breeding success.”

When contacted over email about another year of failure in the breeding program and his reaction to the recent death of the birds at Saharan, Kaushlendra said “I always had this fear in my mind ever since I visited Saharan.”

John Corder, a member of WPA under whose guidance the Himachal governments’ conservation Western Tragopan Breeding Program has been operating, was here on 14 July, 2010 to attend yet another meeting of the core group of the program.

Catching up with Corder, just before the crucial core group meeting was to be held to discuss the failure of the year’s breeding season, he point blankly refused to talk.

“I will meet the media on my terms,” said Corder.

When contacted, AK Gulati, Principal Chief Conservator Wildlife, under whose supervision the conservation program is being executed, he too passed the buck and refused to answer any queries.

A Rs 4.92 crore project for the conservation breeding program as opposed to captivity breeding was sanctioned in 2005-06.

However, the 7 large enclosures (28 m long, 10 meter wide and 4.5 meter high) costing Rs 1.33 crore for the birds to breed under natural conditions that involve no human intervention, are still to come up.

Presently it is only a captive breeding program at Saharan and the natural conservation program is yet to start, says a retired wild life officer.

Francy Hermans in an email response reacted, “1 million Euros made available by the CZA (Central Zoo Authority in India) to breed Western Tragopan. I fail to understand why some-one needs that astronomical amount of monies when I have bred Tragopans in Belgium for 10 times less that amount.”

He said “enough proofs have been given where matters are going wrong. Lot’s of Tragopans are being bred in Europe each year, so why not in Sarahan?”

Kaushlendra adds that he had written to chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, earlier to his predecessor Virbhadra Singh and also to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the mishandling of the Saharan conservation project.

“I want the Saharan project to succeed but it is indeed very unfortunate that all conservation projects are being run like this one and ultimately they bog down,” he said.

Hunted for it bright plumage, the Western Tragopan is a highly endangered species and the state bird of Himachal.

Article lead picture: Courtesy Francy Hermans

Editor-Reporter with Hill Post, Ravinder Makhaik as a journalist has for over two decades worked for India’s leading newspapers and television networks.

8 Comments

  • Kaushlendra Singh's Letter To CM says:

    15th July, 2010
    To
    The Chief Minister
    Himachal Pradesh

    Subject: Captive Breeding Project of Western Tragopan at Sarahan

    Honble Sir,

    Vide my mail dated 15.7.10 and attached copies of earlier mails dated 29.6.08 & 8.11.08

    I have once again requested you to have the expected failure probed at the highest level.

    The matter should not be taken lightly since it involves rare and endangered species of our country and a huge amount of money has already been spent .

    To trap birds of this rare status again and again is not advisable.

    I am not aware about the status of surviving numbers but hope enough birds are available for reviving the project.

    Ill fated advice of parent rearing has finished the breeding stock as enough time has been lost due to this experiment, since these rare birds were in captivity a hybrid system of partly using artificial insemination (AI) method assisted by incubators/ broody hens and partly allowing parent rearing should have been tried.

    Now, project can only be put back on rails by using AI technique which is the only way of quick results and reasonably good number of young ones in the next breeding season.

    We are prepared to help you out provided our advice is acceptable to all those concerned.

    I do not wish to go back in history and do fault finding and just criticize those who are responsible for repeated failure.

    We will spell out our detailed plan only when we are welcome.

    Thanking you,

    Sincerely yours’

    Kaushlendra Singh

  • PANKI sood says:

    Sir this is great article
    ….you are talking about captivity …i had been seeing this wonderful gift of god in WILD from last 3 years ….it is so beautiful ….its natural habitat is very big and it cant survive in these small cages which are in SARHAN ….
    The care takers need to be well trained under some professionals ….I am looking for some new areas for this wonderful pheasant……

    • Dear Mr. Panki Sood, Thank you for your comments, however, it is very well possible to keep and breed tragopans in captivity in good numbers and even to release some of these youngsters back in the wild, but only under the correct guidance. You can see lot’s of photographs of adult and young tragopans which have been bred by us in Belgium and which are doing well. I am sure that the Forestry Dep. in Himachal Pradesh, India is able to breed such birds in similar numbers as we do in Belgium when they make valuable use of our breeding methods. I am glad to read that you have seen Western tragopan in the wild in HP in recent years. All the best,

  • kamal says:

    that ‘follow us’ on the right is a little irritating 😉 please shrink it .. to improve readability of the articles..

  • Dr jitinder lal says:

    I think there is something grossly wrong with the Tragopan breeding programme, possibly relating to diet, in breeding or malformed eggs which even after fertilization and incubation are unable to produce viable chicks.
    Infection and shell deformity has also to be taken into consideration. The run flight kind of habit is also essential for producing healthy eggs, hormonal problem can also not be ruled out.

    Instead of blaming people I think all of us have to put our knowledge together which may include talking to people who live closer to the habitat of the bird, maybe coming closer to a “missed knowledge” as regards the diet is concerned maybe some kind of hormone or mineral or dietary aspect is missing.

    I wish all sucess for the programme, as it is the pride of our state.

  • vikas rohta says:

    Helloo Western Tragapon Lovers….. Today i spotted 1 pair of Western Tragapon on my way to my Native village Baghi.Which is 15 kms from Narkanda .It was realy wonderful experience to see this beautiful Bird..

    • Congratulations Vikas,

      You have become part of the rare community who has seen the Western Tragopan in the Wild.

      I can understand what feelings the very sight of this majestic bird gives arise to when you see it in its natural surroundings

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