Archived topics 2010-2011: Siamese Fireback (Lophura diardi): correctly listed as Near Threatened?

Link to BirdLife species factsheet for Siamese Fireback

Siamese Fireback Lophura diardi is listed as Near Threatened under criteria A2c,d; A3c,d; A4c,d on the basis that it is undergoing a continued decline estimated at 20-29% over 10 years based on current rates of lowland forest loss in its range (J. Pilgrim in litt. 2006), as well as the effects of ongoing hunting pressure (Thewlis et al. 1998, Duckworth et al. 1999). Recent evidence, however, suggests that the species may be able to tolerate a higher level of hunting pressure than was previously thought (P. Round in litt. 2006).

Thewlis et al. (1998) noted that there was no suggestion of a decline in the species’s density in remaining habitat in Laos; however, they also noted that habitat loss had been considerable and that logging might make it more susceptible to hunting. In addition, recent surveys in seriously degraded and fragmented habitats, edge habitats and those otherwise altered by human activities have found the species to be widespread and common, with only the outright conversion of forest resulting in the loss of the species from a given area (W. Duckworth in litt. 2010). This tolerance of habitat alteration suggests that the species may not be in moderately rapid decline, although there has been no critical assessment of the effect of deforestation on this species’s population. Recently, rates of forest loss in its favoured altitudinal band have accelerated in Laos (W. Duckworth in litt. 2010), necessitating further study.

The species population trend requires re-assessment and the rate should be corrected for a period of 15 years (estimate of three generations). Further information is requested on the level of habitat loss and degradation in this species’s altitudinal band, its tolerance to habitat alteration and hunting, and the estimated population trend in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. This species’s global population is currently estimated at 5,000-10,000 mature individuals; the assessment of the species’s Red List status would also be assisted by up-to-date estimates of its population size at national or global levels.

Duckworth, J. W., Salter, R. E. and Khounboline, K. (compilers) (1999) Wildlife in Lao PDR: 1999 status report. Vientiane: IUCN–The World Conservation Union/Wildlife Conservation Society/Centre for Protected Areas and Watershed Management.

Thewlis, R. M., Duckworth, J. W., Evans, T. D. and Timmins, R. J. (1998) The conservation status of birds in Laos: a review of key species. Bird Conserv. Int. 8 (Supplement): 1–159.

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4 Responses to Archived topics 2010-2011: Siamese Fireback (Lophura diardi): correctly listed as Near Threatened?

  1. Andy Symes says:

    Samnang Chhum (World Pheasant Association Research Associate) has provided the following information from Cambodia (December 2010):

    I would like to inform that among three species you mensioned Siamese Fireback is occurring within some areas in Cambodia. Its population is declining continuously by hunting for meat and pet trade as well as hunter birds. Species is now specifically protected yet or/and done a fully research in Cambodia. It meant that we have unknown data clearly in Cambodia.

  2. Andy Symes says:

    Simon Mahood has provided the following information:

    No good data available from me, just some anecdotal observations from Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam. During nearly six months of field work in the Cat Loc sector of this NP, where hunting pressure (with snares) is high (based on incidence of mammal tracks and number of snares found) the species was rarely recorded, but still present throughout. Evidence from hunting camps and discussions with hunters indicated that when Siamese Firebacks were caught they were usually consumed by the hunters in the forest, as subsistence during long hunting trips which targeted higher value species. Because higher value species become locally extinct before the firebacks do, hunters move out of an area before the firebacks are extinct. In the absence of hunting, the populations of firebacks can then recover. This fits with Will’s observation that they are generally never lost from an area unless forest loss is total.

    I’m not sure if any of this helps. Clearly it is declining throughout its range owing to hunting, although this is unlikely to lead it to extinction in any one forest block and hunted populations can recover. Outright habitat loss is also ongoing throughout its range. An accurate assessment of the rate of forest loss throughout its range is what is needed to guide status assessment, and in Vietnam at least this may be almost impossible to obtain.

  3. Joe Taylor says:

    Will Duckworth submitted the following comments on 27 January 2011:

    I think the population estimate must be far too low .I don’t know of any studies of the species’s population density or of any related species n similar habitats, but there must be well over 10,000 sq km of habitat supporting reasonable densities in Lao alone. For example, Xe Pian National Protected Area is 2400 sq km of which perhaps a half is prime habitat and another quarter supports some birds. Eyeballing a map of Lao below 500 m shows that that Xe Pian is nothing like a quarter of the surviving tall forest; its probably not even an eighth or even a 16th. Even if there was only one bird per sq km the higher figure for global population range is surely contained in two or three Lao provinces alone. Plus, in recent year I’ve done several surveys in dreadful habitat, related to logging, mining and so on, and the fireback is a standard member of such areas, some of which ar not even what I would call forest, but rather tall secondary growth (and many, many miles from any serious size block of little-degraded forest). Group such in such places is not obviously different from in tall forest. I can’t make any comparison of encounter rates because the only determinant obvious to me of encounter rate of this pheasant is the presence/abence of trails allowing me good viewing opportunities. I have seen it recently hard by longstandng villages in deforested areas now covered in several-year regrowth over former cultivation. Thus, I think that even looking at a forest map will significantly undertestimate the area occupied by the species, at least in Laos. For the foregoing reasons, I also cannot see how it could warrant a Red List category other than LC: high levels of hunting have been going on, including in the heart of remote lowland forests (which are not usually very remote) for at least 20 years now, and there is no sign of a retreat from, really, anywhere in Laos. This statement needs to be taken with care, because there is not solid current information for mot of the areas surveyed in the 1990s). However, 1990s survey areas were generally ‘the best’ – good habitat in large blocks with teams going to camp within them for weeks. By contrast I usually nowadays have to do short visits baed in villages and wander off a mile or two from the road each morning and afternoon, i.e. very much areas that have higher pressure both hunting and habitat than the 1990s survey areas. In these areas where Siamese Fireback survives various other birds that would have been easily found in the original forest pre-hunting are very rare, such as nearly all forest pigeons, resident raptors, various woodpeckers, and even some of the larger passerines like Hill Mynah. It is difficult to see why Siamese Fireback would be listed as NT unless all SE Asian birds of mature scrub and forest which occur primarily under 500 m are also listed so (and this on the basis of habitat loss). As the account above makes clear, there are changes in forest treatment in Laos Siamese Fireback has survived heavy and widespread logging with forest left to regenerate over the last 20 years (indeed, one couldn’t say it hadn’t benefited from it) but increasingly forest is being cleared and converted to plantations (eucalyptus, acacia, rubber, various fruits, cassava and so on). I presume this pheasant is not so likely to live in such areas although I don’t know of any solid information.

    In sum, the comment of mine above (“Recently, rates of forest loss in its favoured altitudinal band have accelerated in Laos (W. Duckworth in litt. 2010), necessitating further study”) is more frelate to the lowland bird community as a whole, not specifically to this pheasant.

  4. John Pilgrim says:

    First, to clarify, this species is not listed as NT on the basis of a population decline figure which the text above suggests I gave. I believe it was listed some time ago when NT was more loosely circumscribed and concerns about its future in disappearing lowland forests were higher. Further, I did not actually give this figure, merely suggested that it was possible habitat loss could have approached 30% in this region/timescale (but stated that I believed it lower than 20%).

    I agree that this species survives well in degraded forest, and that it survives hunting well – though I suspect that this may not be for the reasons that Simon Mahood states because it survives where other low value species have been hunted/snared out (as Will says). It may instead be owing to some feature/behaviour which makes it less susceptible to snares (cf. junglefowl which, owing to the way their toes are contracted when they lift their feet, are less likely to be snared).

    However, I am concerned about downlisting any species in the absence of any actual data – particularly when obtaining data is not difficult. BirdLife should be able to pull habitat loss figures pretty well for this species’ range from global-level remotely sensed forest change detection and these will give an indication of actual habitat loss (the plantations, agricultural conversion, etc that Will mentions) which seems to be what matters for this species. If those rates of loss are in thresholds for NT, I think it is sensible to keep the species there, if not, it is sensible to downlist it to LC.

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