Edward’s pheasant

Not all of the interesting animals in the Annamites are mammals. This region contains remarkable avian diversity. Nowhere is that diversity more stunningly displayed than in the ground-dwelling pheasants. And no pheasant symbolizes the Annamites like Edward’s pheasant (Lophura edwardsi). Although this species was discovered as far back as 1896, and has thrived for decades in captivity, very little is known about it in the wild. Typical of most pheasant species, the females are drab colored, while the males sport brilliant displays. Females are uniform grayish-brown with lighter feathers on the wings and a darker tail. Male have black-blue bodies, scarlet eye patches, and a tufted white crown. It has one of the smallest global ranges of any pheasant. It has only been recorded from four Vietnamese provinces: Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue. Edward’s pheasant was only found in wet evergreen tropical rainforest where it favored dense underbrush and lianas. Sorry—did I just slip into past tense? Such mistakes are understandable given the uncertainty of whether the species survives in the wild. It has already experienced a Lazarus-like revival. Will this happen again?

The species has an unusual history. From 1930 to 1996 there were no confirmed records from any location within its range. During this time the species was feared extinct in the wild. Then in 1996, to the shock of ornithologists around the world, an Edward’s pheasant was recorded in Thua Thien Hue province. From 1996 to 2000 other individuals turned up in Quang Tri and Quang Nam provinces. One of the most beautiful birds in Southeast Asia was surviving in the remote jungles of central Vietnam. But the good news was not to last. Since 2000 there have been no confirmed sightings of Edward’s pheasant. People have searched. In 2011 intense camera trapping surveys in two relatively undisturbed forest sites failed to record the species. The complete lack of records over the past 13 years indicates that if the species still survives its numbers must be critically low. The other alternative is that it is already extinct in the wild. However, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of this unique bird. First, large tracts of forest in central Vietnam remain poorly surveyed. Small populations may be hiding in these near impenetrable jungles. Second, the species exists in healthy numbers in captivity. Reintroduction would be possible. Although this is a good safety net to have, I hope that Edward’s pheasant is still strutting around the forests, waiting to be rediscovered for a second time. Who knows? It may even turn up in one of our leeches.

Male Edwards's pheasant
Male Edwards’s pheasant
Female Edward's pheasant
Female Edward’s pheasant

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