Vanishing Borneo Pheasants Look Great but Won't Mate

April 6, 2005

In zoos Bulwer's pheasants' stunning looks elicit oohs and ahhs from visitors. But the birds themselves seem to find each other somewhat less than appealing.

As a result, they're producing no offspring—a concern to conservationists who hope to build up the species's numbers in captivity as they decline in the wild.

Also called wattled pheasants, Bulwer's pheasants (Lophura bulweri) are elusive, chicken-size birds. Males have bushy white tails and folds of brilliant blue skin on their faces. Females have brown folds of skin. The pheasants are found in the wild only on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo.

Borneo is the world's third largest island (behind Greenland and New Guinea) and is shared by the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. In the past two decades, conservationists say, much of the island's tropical rain forest has been logged.

John Rowden is an ornithologist, or bird zoologist, with the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City and the curator of animals at the Central Park Zoo. He has traveled to Borneo since 1999 to study Bulwer's pheasants in the wild to learn how to make the pheasants' zoo habitats more conducive for producing offspring.

"We haven't made much progress," Rowden conceded. "We're still missing something, and I'm not sure what it is."

Rowden is worried that Bulwer's pheasants will disappear from the wild before he learns what that missing something is, given the pace of logging and other forest activities he's witnessed on Borneo.

When the ornithologist started working there, he estimated the Bulwer's pheasant wild population ranged between 1,000 and 10,000 individuals. Today, he said, the situation has definitely not improved and has probably grown worse.

Borneo Logging

Lisa Curran is a professor with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in New Haven, Connecticut. She led a study that documented the rate of forest loss in the Indonesian province of Kalimantan on Borneo between 1984 and 2001.

The analysis was published in February 2004 in the journal Science. It estimated that protected lowland forest cover decreased by more than 56 percent—more than 11,000 square miles (29,000 square kilometers) of forest had been chopped down.

"The logging is really bad. It's out of control and hemorrhaging out of the parks," she said.

Continued on Next Page >>


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