Something to cheer for these pheasants

Shimla, The highly endangered cheer pheasant birds, bred in captivity in Himachal Pradesh, are set to take wing in the wild for the first time in the country in the next four-five months, officials said Thursday.

They say they are genetically fit and mature enough to survive in the wild on their own.

"Around 20 cheer pheasants bred in captivity at the Chail pheasantry would be released by September-October," chief wildlife warden Lalit Mohan told IANS.

The cheer pheasant, native to the western Himalayas from north Pakistan to Nepal, is listed in the Red Data Book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a compendium of species facing extinction.

It's included in Schedule-1 of protected species under the Wildlife Protection Act. And that's why their release is such good news.

Mohan, who evolved the 'parent rearing technique' for breeding the cheer pheasant in captivity, said "The aim to reintroduce the pheasants in the wild is to increase their number in their natural habitat."

In Himachal Pradesh, the cheer pheasant is found in isolated pockets of the Majathal and Chail Wildlife sanctuaries in Solan district, Great Himalayan National Park in Kullu district and the Sarahan sanctuary area in Shimla district.

As per the 2005 census conducted by the state wildlife wing, the state supports around 5,000 cheer pheasants in the wild.

Wildlife experts attribute their downfall to habitat degradation, hunting and extensive grazing of the forest by livestock.

Sandeep Rattan, wildlife wing's senior veterinary officer, said the Wildlife Trust of India is currently conducting a survey of the habitat where these pheasants will be released.

"Each bird will be tagged with a radio collar and will be tracked with the global positioning system (GPS) to ascertain the success rate of the re-introduction project," he added.

The wildlife wing's Cheer Pheasant Conservation Breeding Project at Chail, some 35 km from the state capital, was started in 2008 with financial assistance from the Central Zoo Authority.

The cheer pheasants are shy. Each pair needs isolation and mutual affinity for successful breeding.

Mohan said all birds that would be released are 'parent-reared' and their chances of survival in the wild are higher.

John Corder, a conservation-breeding expert from Britain, was also involved in the breeding of cheer pheasants. He also appreciated the 'parent rearing technique' for rearing the endangered species in captivity.

Rattan said earlier the experiment to release the cheer pheasants bred in captivity in the wild failed in Pakistan. "We are taking all precautions, their DNA profiling indicates they are very sound genetically and there is no inbred stock."

Himachal Pradesh is known as a storehouse of bio-diversity. Its lush green valleys and snow-capped mountains are home to 36 percent of India's bird species.

Of the 1,228 species of birds that have been reported in India, 447 have been recorded in the hill state alone by the Himachal State Council for Science, Technology and Environment in its biodiversity report.

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