Shimla: A highly-endangered pheasant species that was hit by a bacterial infection in a Himachal Pradesh pheasantry has been recovering and may start breeding next year, say wildlife officials.
The western tragopans, being bred at the Saharan pheasantry, located 160 km from Shimla, were hit by a bacterial infection last year, leading to the death of three adult birds.
At present, the pheasantry has 10 males and nine females - the only captive breeding programme of pheasants in the country. It`s being supported by the Central Zoo Authority.
"All the western tragopans have been recovering from E. coli bacteria. The infection is under control. We are regularly monitoring their health. Their faecal samples are being tested every month," Principal Chief Conservator (Wildlife) A.K. Gulati told IANS.
He said almost all the birds were suffering from the infection. The first death was reported in May 2010.
"This year no breeding is allowed as the birds, weakened by the infection, are still recouping. We have decided to give them rest. By next season, they will be healthy and may breed again," Gulati added.
The breeding process was controlled this time by using "physiological techniques". The species normally breeds from May to July when the days are longer.
The caretakers have shortened the daylight hours by covering the enclosures with tarpaulins from 4 p.m. to 9 a.m. every day. "This helps retard further breeding," he added.
According to the wildlife officials, 22 chicks have been born since 1993, when the first breeding in captivity took place in the world. So far five chicks have died natural deaths.
"Last year, the birds had laid 16 fertile eggs, of which only one hatched. But the chick died within a week. In 2007, the maximum number of 10 chicks were born and the chick mortality was one," another official said.
Veterinary surgeon Sandeep Rattan said three adult females died last year and post-mortem findings confirmed E. coli bacteria was the cause of their death. He said the infection has severely affected the organs of the surviving birds, including reproductive system.
The western tragopan, which is also the state bird, is listed in the Red Data Book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a compendium of species facing extinction.
The breeding project was started under the guidance of John Corder of the World Pheasants Association. After the infection spread, he visited the pheasantry from Britain and guided about their diet and hygiene.
The western tragopan belongs to the family Phasianidae, which also includes the peafowl and the red jungle fowl. It is the least studied bird in the world and therefore its population estimates are unavailable.
Himachal wildlife officials say they have regularly sighted the pheasant at the Great Himalayan National Park in Kullu Valley.
Being a shy bird, it is rarely sighted and is found at an altitude of 2,000 to 3,600 metres in the temperate forests of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
The bird is hunted for its brilliant feathers.