Green Peafowl Flourish in Thailand’s Northern Forests, But Conflict Looms
July 9, 2021
Once widespread across Southeast Asia, from Java to southern China, green peafowl (Pavo muticus) have vanished from much of the region over the past few decades, due to forest habitat loss, overhunting, and persecution following conflict with farmers. The endangered species is only present in 16% of its former range in mainland Southeast Asia and is largely confined to a handful of isolated forests in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, according to a 2019 study.
Now, a thriving population has been documented in a network of four protected areas in Phayao province in northern Thailand. Researchers say the findings, published in June in Global Ecology and Conservation, represent the largest population of green peafowl yet recorded in mainland Southeast Asia.
Between January and April 2018, a team led by researchers from King Mongkut’s University of Technology, Thonburi, surveyed an area spanning 1,500 square kilometers (580 square miles), comprising Tub Phaya Lor Wildlife non-hunting area, Wiang Lor Wildlife Sanctuary, Doi Phu Nang National Park, Mae Yom National Park, and surrounding agricultural land. Based on 1,615 bird detections, the researchers calculated an average of 15.82 calling green peafowl males per square kilometer (40.97 calling males per square mile).
Although protected forests in Phayao are now patrolled by park rangers, they suffered severely from hunting and agricultural encroachment in the past. As a result, large carnivores like tigers and leopards and many ungulate species have been extirpated from northern forests.
Progress is already being made: according to the study authors, attitudes toward the peafowl are slowly shifting. Local conservation groups, park rangers, and researchers from the University of Phayao are helping farmers to establish peafowl feeding stations on former agricultural fields. Bird-watchers and photographers pay a small fee to see the peafowl and thus contribute to the local protection of the birds.
The green peafowl is a species of peafowl native to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. This species has been listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List since 2009 due to loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation and is listed under Appendix I of CITES. The major threats for these birds are hunting, poaching, and reduction in extent and quality of habitat. They are now protected in such areas as Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand, Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam, and Baluran National Park, Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia.
The researchers found that the peafowls generally rely on forested areas with shrubs, saplings, dry dipterocarp, mixed deciduous, and mixed pine forest. “Although the density of peafowl was highest in forest areas farthest from human settlements, they were frequently observed in the surrounding agricultural fields, particularly during the breeding season, which coincides with the ripening of rice and maize.”