Six Western tragopans raised in captivity were released into the Daranghati Wildlife Sanctuary by Himachal Pradesh wildlife officials on Thursday. Western tragopan is the state bird, and a vulnerable pheasant species with an estimated global population of less than 3,500.
The released birds, comprising two pairs and two chicks, were raised in a conservation breeding centre at Sarahan in Shimla district. Around a month ago, they were shifted from the centre into the adjoining wildlife sanctuary, and released into temporary enclosures called soft pens to help them adapt to their new environment. On Thursday, they were let out of the enclosures and into the wild.
“We will now be monitoring the released birds through GPS-based very high frequency (VHF) radio tags, which will help us determine their habitat range and behaviour during extreme winter and the breeding season,” said Sarahan Divisional Forest Officer (wildlife) Dharamveer Meena.
The Daranghati Wildlife Sanctuary is part of the tragopan’s natural habitat, and the site of release is at an altitude of around 3,200 metres above mean sea level. According to wildlife officials, the site is a five-hour trek from the breeding centre, and was being developed for the past six months by building soft pens and monitoring predators in the area. “It was a hard trek. So getting materials and people there was a challenging task,” said an official.
Addressing the team involved in the reintroduction, state Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania said that this is the first such reintroduction of Western tragopans anywhere in the world. “If we achieve the target survival rate of the birds, it will be a big day for Himachal Pradesh and its forests,” he added.
Himachal Pradesh has seven different species of pheasants, of which the Western tragopan is the most elusive one. Locally called Jujurana, it is endemic to the northwest Himalaya and found in North Pakistan, Kashmir, Himachal and possibly Uttarakhand.
In 2017, Bird Life International estimated that there are less than 3,500 western tragopans left in the wild. The pheasantry in Sarahan is the bird’s only conservation breeding centre in the world, and currently has around 45 birds.
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