Green Peafowls: Threats and Conservation Efforts

September 15, 2021Zihao Yu

Introduction

The green peafowl is one of the three peafowl species that origins from Southeast Asia. The green peafowl is considered to be one of the most iconic birds in Asia. They were once widely distributed across northeast India, Bangladesh, China, mainland Southeast Asia and Java of Indonesia. Due to hunting, habitat loss, and human activities, the population has been declining rapidly. This article will discuss the species and the conservation efforts.

Facts and threats

There are three species of peafowl in the world. Two species in Asia are the blue peafowl or the Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus) original from the Indian subcontinent, and the green peafowl or Indonesian peafowl (Pavo muticus) originally from Southeast Asia, and one species in African is the Congo peafowl (Afropavo congensis) from the Congo Basin. The green peafowl is one of the endangered species on the IUCN Redlist and is listed in Appendix II of CITES. The global population of the green peafowl has declined significantly and their habitats are threatened by human activities.

According to the IUCN Red List, there are around 10,000-19,999 mature green peafowls and 15,000-29,999 individuals in total currently, and the population is still declining. In the past, the green peafowl was distributed in eastern and north-eastern India, northern Myanmar, and southern China, extending through Laos, and Thailand into Vietnam, Cambodia, Peninsular Malaysia, and the islands of Java. Now, green peafowls are distributed in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. The population is stable in Myanmar, Thailand, but in other areas, the population is either uncertain or declining. The species has died out in Bangladesh, India, and Malaysia.

The major threats harming the green peafowl are hunting, habitat loss, and human disturbance. The adults are hunted for meat and feathers, and eggs and chicks are also collected. The loss of the forest and the forest fragmentation have made the species isolated into small groups, which increases the possibility for local distinction. Agricultural activities and the spread of human settlements also harm their habitats.

"GREEN PEAFOWL" by cuatrok77 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Conservation efforts

The green peafowls were listed on the IUCN Red List as Threatened species in 1988 and changed into Vulnerable species from 1994 to 2008. From 2009 to the latest assessment in 2018, the species is evaluated to be Endangered. According to the report in 2018, “[t]his species has a very rapidly declining and severely fragmented population, primarily owing to intense habitat conversion and extremely high hunting levels. Negative population trends and habitat fragmentation are projected to continue. The species, therefore, qualifies as Endangered.”

The Green peafowls have been listed on the list of CITES Appendix II since 1977. “Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.”

In Southeast Asian countries, there are many protected areas for green peafowls including Huai Kha Kheng Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand; Ujung Kulon and Baluran National Parks, Indonesia; Yok Don National Park, Vietnam; Lomphat, Phnom Prich and Kulen Promtep wildlife sanctuaries, Chhep and Eastern Mondulkiri protected forests and Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, Cambodia; Xe Pian National Protected Area, Laos, and Shuangbai Konglonghe Nature Reserve, China.

Green peafowl is one of the first-class key protected wild animals in mainland China under the Wildlife Protection Law.

In Vietnam, Dak Lak Province and Cat Tien National Park are the two places with most of the population of the species.

In Thailand, Phayao's national parks of Phusang and Doi Phu Nang as well as other protected areas in the province are believed to have the country's largest green peafowl population. Green peafowl populations are rising in the Eastern Lanna cluster.

In Cambodia, the species are living in the northeastern part of the country. Conservation of the species in this region should be a priority, but there are still gaps for the conservation including “an inadequate understanding of peafowl ecology, the absence of population baselines for many sites across the species' range and insufficient methods to assess ecology and population size”.

In Laos, the protected area is supported by bilateral aid from Sweden with IUCN, and WSC conservation programs.

In Myanmar, the green peafowl is officially the “National bird of Myanmar”, but the species is dying off in the wild.

In Indonesia, Java is home to the largest population of wild Green peafowl Pavo muticus in the world. Conservation actions and issues over the last few years include: surveys work, law enforcement, captive breeding; population and population viability assessment, and taxonomic status. Read more here.

"GREEN PEAFOWL" by cuatrok77 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Green Peafowl Public Interest Litigation Case in mainland China

In 2013, Bojian Gu found one complete habitat for Green peafowls in Yuxi, Yunnan, in southwest China in one scientific field research. This area is located in the Lvzhi River Valley in Xinping County and is thought to be the last habitat for green peafowl in China. Bojian found the feathers, feces, and footprints of the green peafowls, which proves that the green peafowls are living in this area. Unluckily, a hydropower station is preparing to establish on the Casa River in 2016, which is the mainstream for Lvzhi River. Once the hydropower station is built, the whole valley of the Lvzhi River will be submerged and the habitat of green peafowls will no longer exist. This area is the most important habitat for the Green peafowls with the largest population and the highest density. The construction of the power station has a significant risk of environmental damage to the key habitat of the Green peafowls, which is likely to lead to the regional extinction of the Green peafowl population.

Bojian Gu contacted Wild China and Friend of Nature to file public interest litigation against the hydropower station company in 2017. The plaintiff requested the defendant to eliminate the danger of damage to endangered wild animals and plants such as Green Peacock and Cycas chenii, as well as tropical seasonal rain forest and tropical rain forest, caused by the construction of hydropower station on the main, and immediately stop the construction of the hydropower station. In August 2017, the court officially accepted the case and suspended the hydropower station project temporarily.

In 2018, the court held a public hearing of the case. This case is the first preventive public interest litigation for the protection of endangered wild animals in China. The key dispute between the two parties is whether the related activities of the defendants including dam construction, reservoir clearing and logging, water storage, and inundation, are ecological destruction activities, and pose a major risk to the ecology of the submerged area.

In 2020, the court made the first instance judgment on the case of "Yunnan Green peafowl", and required the hydropower station company must stop the construction of the hydropower station immediately based on the current Environmental Impact Assessment. Read more about the case here.

This area is not only the habitat for the green peafowls but also the growth area for the National first-class key protected plants, Cycas chenii (Cycadaceae). The case is the first preventive case for the protection of the habitat of endangered species in China before substantial destruction occurs.

On December 31, 2020, the Higher People's Court of Yunnan pronounced a judgment of the second instance, rejected the appeal and upheld the original judgment.

Conclusion

The Green peafowls, as one of the largest birds in the world and the iconic animals in many Asian countries, receive less public attention and conservation compared to other mammals. Hunting, isolated habitats, and human activities will accelerate the decreasing trend of the species. More could be done to save the green peafowls.

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