The Cheer Pheasant: Rare Feathered Wonder

Grisma Kumar B.C.
Nepal, home to nearly 900 bird species, boasts a rich diversity of avian life. There are fifty-one species of pheasant in the world. Of them, Nepal is home to eight different species of pheasant. The Cheer pheasant (Catreus wallichii) is one of them. It is the only member in the genus Catreus. It belongs to the order Galliformes and family Phasianidae. It is native to the western Himalayan foothills, which range 1,445–3,050 meters above sea level and are spread across Nepal, India, and Pakistan.

Globally, it's estimated population is 2,000-2,700 mature individuals and less than 1,000 individuals in Nepal. Since 1988, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified it as "Vulnerable", listed on “Appendix I” of CITES and categorized as "Endangered" by the National Red lists of Nepal. It is one of nine species that are protected by NPWAC Act, 2029. It inhabits the rugged highlands and scrublands of the Himalayas. Its distribution in Nepal is from the far western region extends to the Kaligandaki valley in the Annapurna Conservation Area. In Nepal, it is recorded from Achham, Baglung, Baitadi, Bajura, Dadeldhura, Darchula, Doti, Humla, Jajarkot, Jumla, Mugu, Mustang, Myagdi, Rukum east districts.

Males, reaching up to 118 cm in length, possess a long, broadly barred tail, a prominent blackish-brown crest, and vibrant red facial skin. Its long tail has 18 feathers and the central tail feathers are much longer and the color is mainly gray and brown. Their bodies are decorated with buffy white and pale rusty plumage, closely barred with black. Females, slightly smaller i.e. 61-76 cm, exhibit similar coloration but with less pronounced markings.

These elusive birds favor rocky cliffs and steep hillsides, where they find a mosaic of scrub, thick grasses, and scattered clusters of pine and broadleaved trees. Their diet consists of seeds, berries, insects, grubs, roots, and tubers, making them integral components of the Himalayan ecosystem.
Cheer Pheasants are typically solitary or form small family groups. Monogamous males exhibit a distinctive call, a loud, ringing "cheer-cheer-cheer," in every morning. Both male and female produce distinctive calls. Breeding season occurs between April to June, with females laying clutches of 9-14 eggs. These shy birds prefer to run or hide in dense undergrowth when disturbed, making them difficult to observe in the wild.

The Cheer Pheasant is also part of the food chain and ecosystem. They feed on insects and pests of the agricultural land and try to curb their population. In this sense, they are the friends of the farmers. They can be the valuable assist to increase the bird tourism and help in the ecotourism aspects. Similarly, their population is on decreasing trends. Its our responsibility to make favorable environment for them.
Despite its ecological significance, the Cheer Pheasant faces a multitude of threats. Indiscriminate hunting and poaching for food and traditional medicine have significantly depleted its population. Habitat loss due to deforestation and forest fires further exacerbates the species' decline. Additionally, nest disturbance by dogs and illegal trapping poses serious challenges to its survival.

The Cheer Pheasant's dwindling numbers have prompted urgent conservation efforts. Listed as a protected species under Nepal's National Park and Wildlife Conservation Act, 2029, the bird receives legal protection. There is provision of punishment to any person who hunts and kills or injures Cheer Pheasant shall be punished with a fine ranging from fifteen thousand to thirty thousand rupees or face imprisonment ranging from three months to nine months or both. Awareness programs, school education initiatives, aim to raise awareness and promote sustainable practices. The implementation of the Pheasant Conservation Action Plan For Nepal 2019-2023 aims for the proper guidance for the conservation and protection of the pheasant of the Nepal. Research on the species' status, distribution, and behavior is also crucial for guiding conservation strategies.

Our combined efforts to counter the risks it faces will determine whether it survives. We can guarantee that this bird continues to survive in the wild for many generations to come by increasing awareness, putting stronger protection measures in place, and encouraging sustainable land management techniques. Act now to protect this endangered species and maintain its vital function in maintaining the delicate balance of the ecosystem.

(Mr. B.C is Student of Institute of forestry, Pokhara)

Nature Khabar