Rare Forest Bird Rediscovered after 89 Years
CAMBRIDGE, UK, June 6, 2003 (ENS) - One of the rarest and most beautiful birds in the world has been rediscovered in southern Myanmar 89 years after the last of its species was seen, BirdLife International said this week.
Gurney’s pitta, Pitta gurneyi, is a brilliantly colored secretive bird of the forest floor and is known in peninsular Thailand and adjacent southern Tenasserin, Myanmar (Burma).
The discovery was made by a team of conservationists from Birdlife International, the Bird Enthusiasts and Nature Conservation Association, and the Myanmar Department of Forests during a month long survey of lowland forests in southern Myanmar.
The team found pittas at four lowland forest sites, with a maximum of 10 to 12 pairs at one of these, all sites were close to historical collecting localities. BirdLife says that the last confirmed record of Gurney’s pitta from Myanmar was in 1914.
These birds occur in secondary, regenerating, lowland semi-evergreen forest, with understoreys containing Salacca palms, in which they nest, BirdLife explains. Territories are centerd on gulley systems where moist conditions prevail in all seasons, usually with access to water, and often close to forest edge.
The surviving Gurney’s Pittas in Myanmar are threatened by the rapid clearance of their forest habitat to make way for logging, both official and illegal, and conversion to croplands, fruit orchards, coffee, rubber and oil palm plantations.
Jonathan Eames of BirdLife International in Indochina, who took part in the survey, said, “Throughout our work we could hear the constant whine of chainsaws, and everywhere we saw patches of recently burned forest."
"Flat, lowland forest is being rapidly cleared from the region, particularly along the route of the trans-Tennasserim highway," Eames observed. "The extent and scale of the forest clearances are clearly visible from satellite images and pose a significant threat to the continued survival of this spectacular species.”
The Gurney's pitta was discovered in 1875, and was widely collected and reported in the 1910s and 1920s. According to the , but (from the scientific literature) last seen in 1936 until its rediscovery in 1986 in southern Thailand, where around 12 pairs are now known to exist.
In early 1986, therefore, it had appeared to be eligible for listing as extinct under the criterion of not having been seen in the wild for 50 years. The guideline is established under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
A previously undocumented 1952 specimen was then discovered, and captive birds had been reported in Britain up to 1975.
Dr. Michael Rands, director and chief executive of BirdLife International, said, “The rediscovery of Gurney’s pitta in Myanmar is tremendously exciting and potentially important, but we must not be complacent. There was always hope that another population existed in Myanmar, but it is crucial that the fulfilment of that hope doesn’t in any way weaken or compromise the determination to save the species at the site in Thailand.”
The survey of lowland forests in southern Myanmar was funded by a Rufford Small Grant for Nature Conservation which is offered in association with the Whitley Laing Foundation.
Further funding was provided by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which is the BirdLife Partner in the United Kingdom. BirdLife International itself contributed through participation in the Asia Bird Fund.
Members of the project team are: Dr. Htin Hla, Saw Moses, and Sein Myo Aung of the Bird Enthusiasts and Nature Conservation Association; U Saw Nyunt Tin of the Department of Forests, Kawthaung District; and Jonathan Eames of BirdLife International in Indochina.
Full details of the historical status of Gurney’s Pitta can be found in: BirdLife International (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International, or downloaded from: http://www.rdb.or.id/detailbird.php?id=240